This is not exactly the story of the ugly duckling turning into the beautiful swan but it borders somewhere close to this fable. Chief Minister O Ibobi will not exactly go down in history as a statesman par excellence or a man with an unblemished image whose credentials are above board and there will be many other ugly tales that will come to mind whenever the future recalls his days in the hot seat. However what is becoming more and more clearer by the day is the efforts put in by the original Khangabok man, to project an image that was hitherto not seen in his demeanour. If 2001 was the year of the Bangkok Declaration followed by the mass uprising in Imphal, 2004 was the year of Manorama and the months of agitation that literally left the State paralysed and forced Delhi, correction the Prime Minister, to have a new look at the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or view it from a different perspective, and in 2005 the unprecedented 52 days economic blockade imposed by the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur, and if 2009 is the year of the day light killing of Sanjit and Rabina which is currently under a Judicial Inquiry and where the CBI has charge sheeted some policemen including two officers, then 2010 will be the year which will be remembered for different reasons to different people. Each year has its own peculiarities and uniqueness, and there is always a connection between what happened in the past and what is happening at present to what will happen in the future. That is there is a link that connects the past, the present and the future and it is around this link that human relationships and the rise and fall of Kingdoms of yore and the fluctuating market/economic scenario is there for all of us to see and register in our mind, but as is the wont of the human race, many of us tend to overlook it either through negligence, ignorance or sheer arrogance, the holier than thou attitude or the mightier than all attitude, that blinds men to the reality surrounding them. And so it is that Chief Minister O Ibobi began his second innings as Chief Minister with the unpleasant memories of 2004 and 2005 haunting him and the entire people of the State and has today entered the first decade of the new millennium. This was soon followed by the 2009, July 23 incident which is still burning. There has been no dramatic changes, except perhaps in the rapid increase of the traffic volume and frequency in traffic snarls and all its accompanying irritants. Corruption continues to rule the day and the percentage tag on the Chief Minister is yet to be removed and there is no sign that it would disappear in the near future. Projects continue to lag behind time and overshoot its deadline, thereby not only incurring huge extra expenditures but also inconveniencing the daily existence of the average man. The less we talk about power supply the better it would be and rare is the household in any locality that does not have an invertor to dispel the darkness when the Sun sets. In short, nothing appears to have changed at all in all these years and Manipur seems to be caught in a time warp. However a critical and close analysis of the SPF Government will reveal some far reaching changes, that are not very obvious to the casual observer, but has nevertheless left a deep impact on the polity and social life of the average man.
The slow but steady change in O Ibobi as the Chief Minister of Manipur may have been compelled by the demands of the time, or it could be a serious effort to project a new image of the leader of the people. Whatever the case, we cannot help but notice a certain degree of firmness in any stand that the Chief Minister has taken so far. In other words, Ibobi has drawn the Lakshman Rekha, clearly indicating what is tolerable or acceptable and what is not. It has been our long held beliefs and convictions that tough times demand tough decisions and the Chief Minister has actually gone ahead and taken some tough decisions despite the pulls and pressures from Delhi and other entities. If Ibobi appeared like a poor loser in 1999 after he lost to L Jatra of the MPP then today he appears like a man determined to ensure that the dividing line between what is white and what is black is not blurred by any any shades of grey. In one of our earlier write ups in this column, we had acknowledged the action of the Chief Minister when he cracked the whip against the then striking employees of the Secretariat and warned in no uncertain terms that they would be sacked if they do not report for duty. This is something no one would have entertained in their wildest dream but it is there for all to see, how the employees found a face saving device and reported for duty as soon as possible. In P Chidambaram, Delhi may have one of its best man to occupy the office of the Union Home Ministry, but Chidambaram comes with his extra baggage of arrogance and we all know how these Delhiwallas treat any issues related to States in the North East, particularly Manipur. It is against such a man that Ibobi stood his ground and did not buckle under the pressure from Delhi to allow Th Muivah to visit his birth place in the early part of May this year. The Chief Minister must have also faced some uncomfortable situations, when he decided to do away with the Disturbed Area tag in the seven Assembly segments of Imphal after the infamous Manorama episode in 2004, which in effect rendered AFSPA toothless. This is something which all his predecessors were not able to do, and while the situation certainly demanded some measures it should not take away the due credit from Ibobi. From a Chief Minister who merely turned away when greeted by a man holding a banner, “Welcome to Nagalim”, which was highly provocative to a man who stood his ground and disallowed Muivah to set foot on the soil of Manipur to a man who cocked a snook at the boycott call issued by the powerful United Naga Council and attended the Orange Festival in Tamenglong district, the man originally from Khangabok AC has come a long way and it has been quite a transformation.