By Bappaditya Paul
IN Manipur’s electoral history, a Bengali candidate has for the first time won in an Assembly poll in the tiny state dominated by Manipuris and tribal communities.
Ashab Uddin (51), a full-time social worker who survives on his family’s agricultural income, has won from the Jiribam Assembly constituency bordering the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley in Assam.
Ashab has defeated outgoing Congress MLA and former minister T Debendra Singh by 1,650 votes. In the constituency of 28,140 voters, Ashab has secured 8,189 votes to register victory. The results of the Assembly elections, held in Manipur in two phases on 04 and 08 March, were declared today.
What is more important is that, this man of medium built and moderate height contested the elections as an Independent candidate and practically on donations from common Bengalis living in Jiribam.
Jiribam is the only Assembly segment, out of the total 60 in Manipur, which is inhabited by Bengalis and the sizeable amongst them are Muslim by religion. Despite this, no mainstream political parties ever gave nomination to a Bengali to contest the Assembly poll there.
This is because of an undercurrent of anti-Bengali sentiment that is widespread in Manipur. Thus, for years, the Bengalis in Jiribim rallied behind the Congress whom they found a little sympathising, notwithstanding the overt jingoism that has been in play in Manipur.
But alleging that they have been a neglected lot despite extending support to Congress year after year, the Bengalis of Jiribam this time decided to take a plunge into the election and fielded Ashab Uddin as their unanimous Independent candidate.
A local voluntary organisation, Bengali Samaj Unnyan Sangstha, played crucial role in unifying the community for the elections. But it has not been a smooth sail. During the campaign, a public meeting was planned for Ashab at a playground in Jiribam and was scheduled to be addressed by Bengali leaders from Silchar and other parts of Barak Valley.
Manipur administration declined permission for the same citing law and order issues. This made Ashab and his supporters to fall back on street corner meetings and door to door to campaign. Now, these seems to have worked more for him than the public gathering could have.