Imphal: As in many other states, Manipur too has its Muslim vote bank to sway fortunes of the political parties in an election, constituting nearly nine per cent of the electorate.
In more than a dozen Assembly constituencies, the Muslim community, locally known as 'Pangal' or 'Meitei Pangal', can swing results. The direct clout of the Muslim vote bank in more than 3-4 seats and ability to become a deciding factor in 7-8 more help them hog the attention of all political parties.
The community has produced prominent leaders, including a chief minister back in the 70s. Muslims have traditionally sided with either the Congress or the Manipur People's Party. But with the MPP just fielding three candidates, the Congress is looking to win over Muslim votes, especially in the valley where it is in a direct contest with the BJP.
"The Muslims have always voted for us. Last time, three of our Muslim candidates won the elections. The state government has taken various steps for the development of Muslims in the state," State Congress president T N Haokip said.
The Congress government had announced a four per cent reservation for the Muslim community in the state in government jobs in 2006. It had also taken several steps to promote higher education among the community members.
"We are not a communal and divisive force like the BJP which preaches the ideology of Hindutva," a senior Congress leader said.
But with the Modi government coming to power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP's Manipur unit hoped to reap electoral benefits riding on the Modi wave and anti-incumbency against the Congress government.
But the BJP during its ticket distribution had disappointed Muslim aspirants with only one candidate from the community. The Congress had three in its list.
Md Anwar Hussain, the sole Muslim candidate of BJP, is contesting from the Lilong constituency which has the largest Muslim population in the state. Out of 17 aspirants who had sought party tickets to contest five Assembly seats, only Anwar Hussain was lucky.
In three other constituencies -- Keirao, Wabgai and Wangkhem, where there is a sizeable Muslim population, the BJP has decided to go with candidates from the majority Meitei community.
Those left out have accused the party of being anti-Muslim and some of them even joined other parties and are contesting against BJP candidates in various seats.
The BJP state leadership, however, denied the charge that it had deprived the Muslim aspirants. "The tickets were distributed on the basis of winnability of the candidates. We believe in 'sabka saath, sabka vikas'. If you go through our manifesto, you will see what the BJP wants to do for Muslims in Manipur," BJP state president K Bhabananda Singh said.
Among various projects for the development of minorities, the BJP in its manifesto has promised to implement a special mission to strengthen status of livelihood of the religious minorities in Manipur.
The first ever Muslim woman to fight Assembly election in the state, Najima Bibi, is a candidate of the Peoples' Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) of Irom Sharmila from Wabgai constituency. She is in the fray despite a fatwa against her.
Her decision to join politics and contest election has kicked off a storm in her home constituency with religious leaders in Santhel Mamang Leikai publicly announcing that she will not be given a space to be buried after her death.
However, an unfazed Najima Bibi had told PTI, "I am not bothered about my life, but as long as live I will continue my fight against domestic violence and in favour of social uplift of the Muslim women in the society. My life has been a struggle since childhood, I am not afraid of any threat."