Manipur sidelined, as usual

Of course it’s tiny and less important than UP but the national media’s coverage of Manipur’s election was a masterpiece of neglect
SATRAAJIT PALCHOUDHURY reports

Times Now grab of election players in Manipur and Goa. 

 

Is the mainstream media suffering from selective amnesia? The reason for this question is the recent media coverage of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election.  We saw the renowned Rajdeep Sardesai mingling with the residents of Lucknow on the eve of the polls. We saw the UP elections dominate the 24x7 news channels. The print media also followed them minutely. Their efforts should be appreciated for providing us with thorough  coverage of the biggest political state of India.

While the national media also touched upon elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa (though not in any depth), Manipur was totally ignored. 

It needs to be stated here that for the past four months Manipur has been under an ‘economic blockade.’ This blockade has been called by the United Naga Council (UNC) and was one of the dominant issues in the election.

Another important feature of the election was that the Iron Lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila, made her electoral debut. Sharmila chose to contest against former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh on his home turf, Thoubal. Her decision to plunge into politics turned out to be a big disaster. She managed to garner only 91 votes, even less than None of The Above (NOTA) which received 148 votes.

Sharmila, a crusader who has been fighting for the revocation of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act failed to muster support from her own people. This ‘news’ evaded the eyes of the top anchors who were busy in the Hindi heartland.

Mayawati’s ticket distribution formula, Akhilesh Yadav’s struggle with his father and uncle, Rahul Gandhi’s sudden love for Akhilesh - all occupied the minds of our ace political journalists who, however,  did not manage to find time to peep into smaller states like Manipur.

The North East has always remained a neglected zone for Luyten’s Delhi. Even as the new BJP regime in Manipur was yet to prove its floor test and around 20 MLAs were being kept in a five star hotel in Guwahati, many political curries were being cooked in Manipur but stories on them were not attracting the attention of the so-called national media.

On the eve of polls, Ibobi created a few new districts. His decision triggered a furore across the state. Compared to the Hindi heartland states, the north east’s political dynamics are quite different. If caste dominates the political discourse in the former, ethnicity dominates the political discourse in the north east which is why the creation of the new districts was so controversial.

The unprecedented victory of a ‘Modi-fied BJP’ in Uttar Pradesh took everyone by surprise. The political pundits will surely conduct research into it, into what winning formula Amit Shah was able to devise. Will they do the same for Manipur and try to find out the causes of Sharmila’s humiliating and shocking defeat? A woman who remained on a fast for a decade managing to garner only 91 votes?

If nothing else, her defeat showed that apolitical movements can never take the shape of a political movement in the north east. This is a debatable topic. If it is not covered by the mainstream media, we will have to admit that Manipur is not in their line of vision.

The BJP has returned to power in UP after 14 years and the media is highlighting this issue (as it should because the state sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha) yet when the BJP made its electoral debut in Assam, there was none of this euphoria and interest.

When a coastal state like Goa throws up a hung assembly, the media covers all details minutely. When a former CM of a strategically significant state like Arunachal Pradesh (Kalikho Pul) allegedly commits suicide in February, leaving an explosive suicide note, the media treat it as an ordinary news item.

Recently, the All Assam Students Union office in Silapathar was allegedly attacked by a Bengali body. Again, it was ignored by the national media.   

In Assam illegal immigration is an issue.  Work has been on to update the  National Register of Citizens – a much-discussed and contentious issue in the state – which will have the records of all ‘genuine’ citizens as opposed to ‘illegal’ immigrants.  You probably haven’t heard about it because it has not been covered much.

Take another story. A few months ago, the Guwahati High Court delivered a judgment saying that the certificates obtained from panchayat representatives cannot be considered to be  ‘valid documents.’ The verdict took everyone by surprise because if this ruling is followed in letter and in spirit, the poor villagers of Assam will suffer the most.

Have you read about this in your national media? 

 

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017