Why Nongthombam Biren can only lead Manipur
Khumanthem Ibochou (Tejmani)
The purpose of this article is to argue and understand one important political vis-à-vis electoral reality of contemporary Manipur – “Why Nongthombam Biren is the perfect leader to lead the state”. To understand the merit of this bold statement, two important time frames must be established for the purpose of this article. Manipur, during the era of Ibobi’s dictatorial regime of 15 years and the political scenario of the state in post 2017 Assembly Election.
The social and political atmosphere of the state for decades were filled with traumatic incidents. Those incidents were mostly orchestrated by the state machinery and were systematically executed under the direct command of the state government. Among those incidents, one incident summed up in the form of a petition filed in the Supreme Court of India in 2012 when for the first time a revelation from the small but beautiful state, Manipur shocked the conscience and spirit of humanity. It is stated that during the period May, 1979 to May, 2012, 1528 people were killed in Manipur in extra-judicial execution.And probing only six selected cases,the report of the Inquiry Commission headed by Justice (Retd.) Santosh Hedge categorically stated that all the six cases were fake encounters and none of the victims had any criminal record and all of them were innocent. This is no surprise to any soul familiar to the modus operandi of Ibobi’s Congress regime, as he vehemently applauded the Khwairamband incident of 23rd July, 2009 in the State Assembly. The incident was being watched by people across the globe as it took place in broad daylight in the busy street of Imphal City when a young man and a pregnant woman were gunned down by the Manipur Police Commandos. This is considered and studied as the classic case of brazen violation of human rights by state apparatus. What is more heinous and grave is when the Chief Minister himself, in the State Assembly had to applaud the conduct and stated that “Haatpa nattana upai leite!” (Elimination is the only option!). Without an iota of doubt, this is legitimization of terrorism by the state. The debate on human rights violation by state machinery in this corner of the world for several decades has been finally settled and also dared by the Congress with this incident.
Corruption reached its peak and protest movements hitting the streets of the valley became the norms. Reaching home before dusk was mandatory for every breadwinner. Women folks engaging in vigilantism in community areas to protect their husbands and sons were the daily ordeal. A magnificent centuries old civilization when dictated by the authoritarian and barbaric regime; its spirit, vibrancy and growth were crushed to dust. A society which survived such tormented experiences; with jubilant and hope, embraced a new dawn of hope and aspiration in March 2017, under the leadership of Nongthombam Biren.
A NEW ERA OF HOPE
Six years is a realistic and reasonable period to affirm that extra-judicial execution is no longer permissible. From March 2017, under the leadership of Biren, peace and development has become the cornerstone and mantra of its governance. If this has become a new norm for the state, without hesitation; Nongthombam Biren, Chief Minister, who made it possible to achieve such a gigantic paradigm shift must be applauded. Today, womenfolk left vigilantism and are visiting him to address social and political issues. They have a strong desire to play important roles in the process of making the state more prosperous and peaceful. Without resorting to protest activities, aggrieved sections of the society are finding the ways out and solution with constant meetings and deliberations with the Chief Minister himself. Leave alone the aggrieved citizens, Cabinet Ministers and MLAs had to wait for weeks to meet the Chief Minister prior to 2017. Since statehood in 1972, several Chief Ministers had ruled the state but there is one significant departure from previous Chief Ministers that distinguishes Nongthombam Biren - his passion and devotion to the social fabric, deep knowledge of historical facts, attachment to emotional equations among the communities and his love for the youths.
During the March of 2017, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren was in a hurry to do something huge for the future of the state. And in many public occasions, he shared these anxieties. These anxieties were the grave challenges and issues the state was encountering. Such as; law & order, employment, insurgency, drugs, widespread corruption, transport bottlenecks, lack of trust in the government, failure of governmental institutions, and ethnic conflicts. With these issues and challenges forming his central ideas for governance, he set out the noble steps of Go to Hills, Miyamgi Numit, Hill Leaders Day and Go to Village.These campaigns were the channels to listen to the problems and grievances of the common people with the objective of remodeling a new approach in planning processes, development outcomes and governance, besides doorstep service delivery of government schemes and welfare activities. With pride, we need to acknowledge that today it has been replicated by other state governments elsewhere in the country.
Without roving around every Biren’s policies and achievement, the latter section of this article will attempt to articulate two important issues which shaped and distinguished his leadership. These issues are ILP and War on Drugs.
ILP: Youths lost their lives in the 1980s in the wake of the Anti-foreigner movement. The death of Potsangbam Premananda and Huidrom Lokendro in April of 1980 is still a fresh memory for so many Manipuris. The state has remained paralyzed for weeks or months, whenever agitation movement on this issue strikes the chord of the society. It revived again in early 2000. This time, which spans for years, the movement had become violent on many occasions. But the government of the day had nothing to offer but brutality was its only response. We still remember, July of 2015 when a young 16-year-old Sapam Robinhood Singh, a student of Ananda Singh Higher Secondary Academy died in police action. The hill areas of the state saw a population growth of 153.3% between 1971 and 2001, and it rose to 250.9% during the 2001-2011 period. The valley areas also recorded a population growth of 94.8% from 1971 to 2001, and around 125% from 2001 to 2011. Nearly 40 years old issues of Inner Line Permit (ILP) came to an end with the introduction of the ILP-System during the first term of Chief Minister, Nongthombam Biren. This in itself tells a different story and characteristic of his politics and leadership. A detailed and minute study on this subject will surely unearth some of the most fascinating and exciting accounts of politics and Biren’s mastery to navigate in troubled waters. This article will rescue itself from delving into those areas. Nevertheless, at last, under the leadership of Biren, the martyrdom of three proud sons of Manipur did not go in vain. Also their families are honored so the voices of lakhs of Manipuri. The collective fear of a society of indigenous populations being outnumbered by the outsiders has been finally resolved. Moment to rejoice and a new era to shape the future of the state has finally taken shape.
WAR ON DRUGS: The state government started the ‘War on Drugs’ Campaign in November, 2018 with the objective to save the youth from ill effects of drug abuse and its illicit trafficking. In a short period of just 2-3 years the government has been able to achieve great milestones. 52.144 Kg of Heroin No. 4, 395 Kg of Opium, 450 Kg of Brown Sugar and several other drugs with a value of nearly 1100 crore rupees in international market were seized in 2022. Since 2018, more than two thousand people related to smuggling of drugs have been arrested. The menace of drugs abuse and its business is affected by two factors. Proximity to the infamous Golden Triangle and involvement of political leaders and insurgent groups. The first factor, geo-political factor can be addressed purely from the administrative perspective and to a large extent it is successful with his leadership. However, the second factor, when political leaders and insurgent groups operating in the hills of Manipur are involved, the issue becomes murkier and dirtier. Given the fact of ethnic composition and its representation in the electoral dynamics, it is always safer for a conventional Chief Minister to play the safer game - let things continue as they have been since decades. Even if it costs the future of our youths. However, Biren opts to play a risky game, to destabilize the so-called conventional politics. Conventional politics in this regard would mean the classic definition, securing electoral numbers be the top priority. The more the state government penetrates deeply in its War Against Drug, the more it agitates several political groups. Without mincing his words and without bothering political outcomes, he is single handedly championing the cause and fighting the war with little support from Civil Organizations. Therefore, taking into account the mammoth success of Biren’s War on Drugs that has achieved so far despite the cold response and support he receives from the stakeholders of our society, it will be befitting to arrive at the conclusion that Biren dares to take risk, if such risk will garner positive prospect for the larger society. History witnesses that great leaders in order to bring revolution in critical juncture have taken risks, regardless of whether they succeed.
FACTORS FORMING HIS LEADERSHIP
Bestowed with disciplined mind and habit of a professional sportsperson, craving the passion to unearth truth as a journalist, equipping vast experiences of social and political dynamics since the Kukis – Nagas tension of early 1990s to the final moment of June 2001 which led him to leave his dream job of being a journalist to taking the path of electoral politics; Biren has transform drastically in the last two decades as a seasoned and articulated political leader. In every occasion since March of 2017, leading the fractured state in a tumultuous period in the first term, his every public conduct testifies that the future of the state is safe in his leadership. His unconventional method of engaging critical political issues, the state encounters, left amaze many political pundits, as daring to take risk for a greater cause, has never been a cup of tea for political leaders in this part of the world. Lastly, on a lighter note, little did we realise that the key indicators and fundamentals of Good Governance; transparency, lawfulness, citizens’ participation, sound policy, responsiveness and accountability have always been the sole mantras of Biren’s meticulous and unconventional way of governance.
Little has been articulated in this article on the issues and challenges his leadership encounters on developmental politics, more particularly in his second term. This is a deliberate omission as it will be engaged elaborately in the upcoming articles. The writer is social worker