Former BSF footballer turned journalist turned politician, Nongthombam Biren Singh is BJP’s first chief minister in Manipur and its third in the North-East. Singh, who shifted from Congress to BJP in 2016, spoke to Oinam Sunil about his priorities and the implications of BJP’s inroads into Manipur.
You have become Manipur’s first BJP chief minister by ending your mentor Okram Ibobi Singh’s 15-year rule. What are the challenges ahead?
People’s verdict in this election was against mis-governance of Congress. The mandate is for a change. We need to provide good governance. With the help of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we can deliver good government to the people of Manipur.
Why did you leave Congress last year and choose BJP?
Congress damaged the age-old relationship between the hills and the valley. In a bid to remain in power, the Congress government was dividing the people. I felt suffocated with such politics and decided to leave Congress. I joined BJP because I believe under the leadership of PM Modi, we can bring development and provide good governance which is necessary to regain lost trust between hills and valley. We need to have a topographical need-based budget to develop backward hill areas. At the same time, we need to protect the land in the valley areas by inserting suitable provisions in the Constitution.
Militancy is the biggest problem in Manipur. How will your government tackle it?
All the insurgent outfits operating in the state will be invited for a political dialogue to bring about a permanent solution. The state government has earlier signed a Suspension of Operations (SOO) agreement with many Kuki-Chin rebel groups. We need to start a dialogue with all these groups and irrespective of their background, the talks should be brought to their logical conclusion. Any peace talks with militant groups should be concluded within a given time-frame.
There are seven lakh unemployed youth in Manipur. How will you tackle this issue?
I will urge the Centre to set up a Manipur Regiment in the Indian army. We need to focus on this area and provide adequate opportunities. During the campaign, we promised one job in each family, we will try to achieve it.
Many in Imphal valley are worried about the Naga Framework Agreement?
PM Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh have already announced that there is no point that can harm Manipur’s territorial integrity in the Framework Agreement signed between the Centre and NSCN-IM. The PM has said there is nothing on Manipur in the agreement. BJP will protect the state’s boundary, unity and culture. There will not be any compromise in the territorial integrity of Manipur while negotiating with any militant groups.
How did you manage to create your coalition to defeat Congress’s attempt to form the new government?
The entire work of cobbling a majority and bringing a post-poll alliance with different parties was the work of BJP state general secretary Thongam Biswajit Singh. All credit goes to Biswajit Singh. As for the fate of Congress, the party is finished now. The era of Congress dominance in Manipur politics is over.
How will you tackle the Naga People’s Front (NFP), which wants the integration of Naga inhabited areas? NPF with four MLAs is now your coalition partner.
The members of NPF are Nagas of Manipur. They belong to Manipur. As they have become a part of BJP-led coalition, we can understand their grievances and try to resolve them. Their presence in the ministry will only help us understand their viewpoints. We will sit together with them and discuss issues but BJP will not entertain any issues that can threaten the state’s territorial integrity.
How will you solve the crisis caused by the United Naga Council’s blockade, which has greatly affected the supply of fuel and essential commodities?
PM Modi and the new government are committed to lift the blockade as it has brought sufferings to the common people. I also appeal to UNC to lift the economic blockade considering the plight of the people of both hills and valley. I will propose that the Centre develop all national highways passing through Manipur into four-lane highways. Union surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari has already sanctioned Rs 22,000 crore for road projects in the state. We will try to raise a dedicated Highway Protection Force to guard national highways.
What is your first priority after assuming charge as chief minister?
My first priority is to lift the blockade and ensure normal supply of fuel and essential commodities to the state.
Source: Times of India