By: Seram Neken
Nongthombam Biren Singh is the only Chief Minister of Manipur who owns the prestigious title ‘People’s CM’ through various social media platforms during his stint as the executive head of the state since 2017. Netizens called him ‘People’s CM’ because of his extraordinary outreach to the general public. At the dawn of his regime as Chief Minister, people of Manipur barring geographical and ethnic lines had accorded high expectations in his leadership. His innovative ventures attracted many to tag him as a gamechanger.
Go to Hills, Go to Village, Meeyamgi Numit, Hill Leaders’ Day, Chief Ministergi Hakshelgi Tengbang, Chief Ministergi Artist singgi Tengbang, War on Drugs campaign etc. fascinated people of Manipur. Mounting anti-incumbency against the fifteen years’ dispensation of Congress party drove people to accept the Biren Singh’s apparently people-friendly regime with high hopes of a united Manipur.
The former Editor of Naharolgi Thoudang Daily, Biren had started his career as a footballer and got recruited in the Border Security Force (BSF). He resigned from the BSF and turned to journalism by starting the vernacular daily in 1992 and worked as the editor till 2001. During his spell as journalist, he was arrested for publishing a statement made by social worker Thounaojam Iboyaima, which allegedly encouraged the armed groups. The police had at that time reportedly said the statement published in the newspaper that Biren edited was ‘seditious and anti-national’.
His jump to political platform from the journalistic profession in 2002 was a meaningful event. Along with a few like-minded activists with axe in hand, Shri Biren swore to protect the integrity of motherland Manipur at the foot of the sacred Sahid Minaar at Khwairamband Bazar. Among others, his team in the then Democratic Revolutionary People’s Party (DRPP) comprised present MLA of Langthabal assembly constituency Karam Shyam, Ex-MP Thokchom Meinya Singh and Ex-MLA of Naoriya Pakhanglakpa constituency Rajkumar Anand Singh.
The erstwhile DRPP fielded candidates in 23 assembly constituencies in the 2002 state assembly elections, where only 2 from the party were elected. Later, the DRPP MLAs N. Biren Singh of Heingang constituency and Thokchom Meinya of Konthoujam constituency merged with Indian National Congress ahead of 2004 Lok Sabha election.
After joining the Congress party, Biren became Minister of State (Vigilance) under the Okram Ibobi Singh government in May 2003. Re-elected from Heingang assembly constituency in 2007 general elections, he became Minister (Irrigation & Flood Control and Youth Affairs & Sports). In 2012, he again retained the position.
Serving as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, sportsman-turned-journalist-turned-politician quit the party in October 2016 and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formally on 17 October 2016, and later became the Spokesperson and Co-convener of the Election Management Committee of BJP Manipur Pradesh. In 2017, he was sworn in as the 12th Chief Minister of Manipur leading the coalition government in the state. After clearing all political hurdles during his first stint, Biren Singh could well manage to increase BJP seat to 32 in 2022 assembly election and is now serving his second tenure.
Being a seasoned politician, Biren had placed bigger state issues in the forefront while leaving the Congress party and joining the saffron brigade. His first agenda was to implement an Act which protects the state’s land from being occupied by outsiders before the operationalization of ‘Act East Policy’. The move was to prevent powerful and affluent companies from occupying the state’s land for their business. Second, the former Congressman demanded a political solution restricting the free movement of and operation by armed groups under Suspension of Operation (soO) and other ceasefire agreements. Third, development of national highways to the level of four-lane and ensuring security by engaging Highway Protection Force were his agenda. Fourth, he dwelt on non-disturbance of state boundary and administration in the process of political negotiations with armed insurgent groups. Lastly, he proposed framing of a topographical budget for the hills to bring about balanced development of the state. Biren Singh even dared to shun politics, if any of the political parties failed to respond to his five-point agenda. Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) accepted his bargain and garlanded the leader as a game-changer in Manipur politics.
Amidst the usual coalition trickeries and leadership race among party stalwarts, Shri Biren had dared to execute his vision of a unified Manipur. As soon as he occupied the seat of the chief minister, Biren Singh executed a tactful solution to the Churachandpur imbroglio, the remnant of the ILP Movement in the state. The long economic blockade sponsored by some hill-based groups came to an end under his initiative. It was followed by the ‘Go to Hills’ Mission, which was quite timely and fruitful in bringing back the lost emotional integrity among the various communities in Manipur. People were hopeful that the existent Hill-Valley divide would be diminished to a great extent.
Now, Manipur has been on the boiling pan since May 3 last. Manipur Chief Minister admitted faults on the part of the administration in the initial stage of the conflict. Civil bodies and MLAs belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Zo communities have been demanding removal of Biren Singh from the chief ministership since the very beginning. People belonging to Meitei community in the periphery where the battle goes on continuously, are highly critical of the political leadership of the state for failure to take timely actions against the erring Kuki militants. Political parties particularly those in the opposition alliance across the nation also demand termination of the Manipur state government for failure to maintain law and order. However, the union Home Minister in the Lok Sabha claimed that Manipur Chief Minister was cooperating with the central government and there was no need for his removal nor imposition of central rule in Manipur. Earlier, when Chief Minister Biren Singh was about to submit his resignation to the Governor of Manipur, a huge crowd mostly womenfolk came out to halt the move in the streets between Chief Minister’s bungalow and the Raj Bhavan in Imphal.
Even after three and a half months now, the situation in Manipur is still tense. Amid the continual armed attacks by Kuki-Chin militants in the periphery of valley areas and vigilant positioning of defending villagers, hectic lobbying and dialogues have started in the capital. On what agenda and on what pre-conditions is the talks between Government of India and the Kuki-Chin-Zo bodies going on ? What actions have been taken against separatist Kuki MLAs and Ministers who have been instigating the violence since the very beginning ? What punishments will be meted out to the erring Kuki militants for breaking ground rules of SoO agreement ? Why there is prolonged delay in convening a special legislative assembly session ? These and numerous questions linger in the minds of the people of Manipur who are now asking “Where is the people’s Chief Minister”.
(The writer is Imphal based Senior Columnist. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org)