Imphal: With the stage set for the first phase of polling in the landlocked state of Manipur, all eyes will be on feisty Manipuri activist and political debutant Irom Sharmila.
Sharmila has a long way to go in the poll ring, as she has a single point agenda of getting rid of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and three-time Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh of the Congress.
While the Congress is eyeing a consecutive fourth term in office, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is throwing a determined challenge to the grand old party.
The BJP, after wining in Assam, is hopeful to form the government in Manipur. Moreover, the northeast state has a tradition of voting for the party ruling at the Centre.
Both Sharmila and Okram Ibobi Singh, who will be contesting from Thoubal, filed their nominations on February 17.
Supporters of Sharmila, however, look at her as someone capable of bringing in change, while those with Singh believe he will win at the end.
Hoping to make a "new beginning", the motto of her People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) party is to ensure clean and transparent politics. If voted to power, her party vows to deal with the issues like AFSPA, corruption, divisive politics and unemployment.
With no political backing, Sharmila and other members of her new party are raising money for fighting the polls through crowd-funding.
Despite her recognition and fame, Sharmila appears to have failed to generate much interest among the voters. However, Sharmila's presence in the political arena may give a chance to those who want to cast their ballots to bring 'change'.
Altogether 215 candidates have filed their nomination papers from 38 constituencies which go to polls in the first phase of the assembly elections on March 4.
As many as 24 candidates have filed their papers for the remaining 22 seats that votes on March 8.
Meanwhile, the poll-bound state is witnessing an indefinite economic blockade by the United Naga Council (UNC) since November 1, 2016, against the state government's decision to create seven new districts by bifurcating the existing ones and upgradation of Sadar Hills to a full-fledged district.
Also with petrol selling at a high of Rs. 250 a litre following the economic blockade, the candidates are forced to do door-to-door campaigning on foot.
The United Naga Council (UNC) started the blockade in protest against the creation of seven new districts by dividing the existing ones.
The political parties have been compelled to use the bare minimum of vehicles for campaigning.
The state might this time witness an electoral battle fuelled by anti-incumbency, where the voters will surely analyse Singh's performance and take an informed decision to choose a government in this elections.
The only alternative to the Congress are the regional parties in the state, most with a similar mindset of professing accountable liberty, labour and equal opportunity. But this time, the BJP is trying hard to put up an impressive performance.
Less than one lakh voters in each of the 60 assembly constituencies of Manipur will decide the electoral fate of the candidates in the fray. About 7,32,780 voters in the age group of 25-40 years will exercise their right to vote.
Women voters outnumber males in all age groups:
Manipur became a Union Territory in 1956 and a full-fledged state in 1972. It has two Lok Sabha constituencies and one seat in the Rajya Sabha. It has just two divisions and nine districts. Inner Manipur consists of 32 assembly seats and one parliamentary constituency. Outer Manipur has 28 assembly seats and one Lok Sabha constituency. Interestingly, the women voters outnumber males in all age groups in the state, which has around 18 lakh voters.
The total population of the state is 27, 21,756 lakh as per the 2011 census.
Manipur: a mosaic of rich culture and traditions
A beautiful northeastern state of India, Manipur, boasts of a mosaic of rich culture and traditions. In the company of vibrant dances and music, the Manipuris find ample reasons in their fairs and festivals for celebration. In the field of arts and culture, the state is best represented by its classical and folk dance forms and also theatre.
2017 poll dates in Manipur:
The 2017 polls will be conducted in two phases. The first phase involves 38 constituencies will vote on March 4 and the second phase involving 22 constituencies on March 8.