Militia group Arambai Tenggol issues restrictions on election campaigning in Manipur

(Photo: Pixabay/John Mounsey)

As Manipur gears up for the Lok Sabha elections, an alarming situation has unfolded with the powerful Meitei militia group Arambai Tenggol publicly imposing restrictions on traditional campaign methods, according to reports from The Wire and India Today North East. This development has raised concerns about the integrity of the electoral process, especially in the backdrop of the ongoing violence that has engulfed the state since May 2023.

In a press release issued by Laishram Robason, popularly known as the "Control Room Operator" of Arambai Tenggol, the militia has prohibited public gatherings, feasts, the use of loudspeakers, flag raising and the dissemination of election messages through loudspeakers during the campaign period, as reported by India Today NorthEast. The release cites the tense situation in the state and suggests that such campaign activities have been divisive rather than unifying, potentially leading to further conflict and violence.

Remarkably, the Manipur state government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre have remained silent on this matter, despite the militia's overt political influence and its apparent disregard for established democratic norms, The Wire reported.

Arambai Tenggol, formed in September 2022, has rapidly evolved from a little-known shadowy group to a formidable force boasting a cadre strength of over 60,000 members, with more than five dozen spread across Imphal, as per the report from The Wire. On social media, the militia appears to be dressed like state and central forces, carrying heavy weaponry, yet without any apparent action from the BJP state government or the state police, as highlighted by The Wire.

The militia's influence was recently underscored by a controversial meeting it organised at the Kangla Fort, attended by two MPs from the region and several ministers from the state government. According to reports, three legislators, two from the BJP and one from the Congress, were allegedly beaten up and abused by the militia when they refused to agree to its demands. Shockingly, no first-information report appears to have been registered in this matter, as noted by The Wire.

As the nomination process for the Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency draws to a close, seven candidates have entered the fray, including representatives from the Republican Party of India Athawale (RPIA), the BJP, the Indian National Congress (INC), the Rashtriya Janhit Sangharsh Party (RJSP), the Universal Family Party, the Manipur People's Party (MPP), and an independent candidate, according to India Today NorthEast.

The restrictions imposed by Arambai Tenggol have raised serious concerns about the ability of political parties and candidates to campaign freely and engage with the electorate effectively. Such measures might undermine the fundamental principles of a free and fair electoral process which is why it remains to be seen as to what the state and central governments will do to ensure a conducive environment for the upcoming elections.