Manipur Assembly Poll 2017: Congress sits pretty to royally crush IndiaToday-Axis Poll Predictions

Friday, February 03, 2017

IndiaToday-Axis Poll made a big splash during the Bihar Assembly Polls last year by going against the tide of other polls to predict a landslide for Nitesh Kumar secular alliance and hit a bullseye. Out of the predictions for the current 3 assemblies going to polls tomorrow, IndiaTodayAxis Poll of Manipur appears totally suspect and this how it should play out on March 11th when results are to be declared.

First and foremost even their vote share of the survey total does not add up (sums up to 110%). Secondly, a 3% margin is well within the Margin of Error (MoE) of pre-polls, and strictly going by polling conventions should have been called ‘too-close-to-call’, given that in Manipur constituency population is extremely small.  Our analysis given in this post would further argue there are more fundamental reasons why such a projection a BJP win is totally absurd as well highly improbable.

There are some other pre-polls including CVoter where vote shares are not available but we can make the following deductions based on their projected seat distributions:
  • In contrast to IndiaToday-Axis Poll, these polls suggest BJP would be only a minor player
  • The Congress is in a position to either win or emerge the single largest party in the 60 seat house
  • The Opposition Unity Index (IoU) is very low with a plethora of parties, with BJP being only one of the players.
  • There are smaller parties and individual leaders within these parties who are capable of winning seats on their own merit at the constituency level
Around 60% of Manipur’s population lives in the plains, while the rest on the hills. The demographics of this North Eastern state by religion reveal that Hindus and Christians are roughly 41% of the population respectively with Muslims around 7-8%. In the NE however religious polarisation plays second fiddle to tribal loyalties. The Meitis are found concentrated in the plains while the Nagas in the hills. 

The population distribution desegregated by tribes can be found in the table below. 

The BJP strategy revolved around the following:

  • There are accumulated anti-incumbency arising from 15 years of continuous Congress rule to be exploited
  • To counter Meitei consolidation around the Congress, target the Naga minority population of 14%.
  • Muslims including Bangladeshi immigrants that constitute 7-8% of the population are sections of population that nurse grievances against the Congress regime for gross neglect. BJP could woo them to build a social coalition with the Nagas that would command a vote share of around 21%.
  • A plethora of secular parties would eat into the Meitei votes, which makes a Naga-Muslim social consolidation a winning formula.
  • Apply the Assam formula – weaken the Congress through defection and through defectors augment BJP support base 
The weakness of this strategy is as follows:

  1. Polarisation always attract counter polarisation and if the Meiteis consolidate around the Congress, the BJP will be buried
  2. The Muslim vote as seen in the past is not consolidated and scattered among different parties. If at all BJP intended to consolidate Muslim votes behind it, they must offer a clear unambiguous signal to the Muslim community. What could such a signal be?  Obviously offering the community seats. But the BJP fouled up by offering only 1 seat to Muslims in their list that disappointed the community.
  3. If Meiteis counter polarise around the Congress, it would mean that other secular parties would not have the impact of eroding Congress vote share as assumed by BJP
  4. To consolidate the Naga vote, the BJP could have benefitted through a formal alliance with NPC that has a traditional strong base with the Nagas. The absence of a base means that the Naga vote remains split. The BJP is a partner of Naga People’s Front (NPF), which is seen as an “outcast” in Manipur, and a constituent of Nagaland’s ruling coalition.
  5. The BJP could not present a face that takes on the towering popularity of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh of the Congress
  6. The Assam formula did not fully succeed in Manipur as Congress was able to ward off these efforts to keep their flock together by and large
The Congress strategy apparently revolves around the following: 

  • Capitalise on Okram Ibobi Singh as the most popular and well known in the state
  • To neutralise efforts of BJP making inroads into the hill area, the Ibobi Singh reorganised the districts. The United Naga Council (UNC) had claimed Sadar Hills is the “ancestral homeland” of the Nagas. The reorganisation helped the Congress to consolidate its base among the Manipur tribals in the hill region but alienating the Nagas.
  • The UNC decision of blockading the state to protest reorganization of districts also helped the Congress to stem anti-incumbency. The Congress gained from the ethnic frenzy arising out of the UNC-enforced blockade. As people continue to suffer due to an acute shortage of supplies, the Congress managed to build an anti-BJP mood by accusing the Narendra Modi government of not doing enough in clearing the roads.
  • The Congress always provides at least 3-4 tickets to Muslims and this year will prove no exception. At least a good section of Muslims can be expected to repose faith in the party as in the past
The Congress accordingly are strongly upbeat on prospects of retaining Manipur, if not coming with a clear majority, they expect to emerge at least as a single largest party as they clobbered a social coalition which is several times larger than what BJP is attempting to build. And if this happens, IndiaToday-Axis would find themselves with mud on their faces


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