When Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh returned to the campaigning on Saturday with a fierce attack on the opposition Congress, what stood out more was perhaps his nearly week-long time-out – a highly unusual sabbatical considering the state will vote in just three weeks.
The Congress’s campaign promises are all “propaganda” and the BJP will “absolutely” make a comeback, he said, as he launched his poll campaign from the Khurai constituency after filing his nomination.
Aiming to return to power, the Manipur Congress on Friday had released its manifesto for the assembly polls, promising 50,000 new jobs each year and one-third reservation for women in all government jobs.
The party has also promised immediate repeal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA and a separate Manipur regiment in the army.
“The manifesto should be practical but their manifesto is propaganda. Our manifesto will be practical and it can be implemented easily otherwise they are just bluffing,” Mr Singh told reporters.
But in the week that has gone by – much of which was spent by the 61-year-old away from the public eye – Biren Singh’s battle hasn’t just been with the Congress.
Last week, after the BJP named its candidates for all 60 seats for Manipur, massive protests by supporters of those hoping to get tickets had sparked a crisis for the party. Several leaders switched sides including three sitting MLAs.
For a week, Mr Singh has been working overtime to pacify the dissidents.
Party insiders say the BJP was facing serious dissidence in as many as 16 seats until he got those who were denied tickets face-to-face with party candidates to ease out differences and put a lid on a larger revolt within the party.
The Congress, meanwhile, has been unsparing in its attacks on the government.
“They have misused power and remained in government for five years despite 12 of their MLAs being disqualified on charges of office of profit,” said Bhakta Charan Das, the Congress’s in-charge for Manipur.