Old wine in a new bottle

When former Congress chief minister of Manipur Okram Ibobi Singh was not invited by Governor Najma Heptula to stake claim…

Old wine in a new bottle

Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh (Photo: IANS)

When former Congress chief minister of Manipur Okram Ibobi Singh was not invited by Governor Najma Heptula to stake claim to form a new government after the election last month, he said he would lead a responsible and constructive opposition in the assembly.

In fact, in the election, the Congress secured 28 seats in the 60- member house while the BJP got 21. The latter was able to form a government with the support of four members of the National People’s Party, four from the Naga People’s Front, one each from the Trinamul Congress, Lok Jan Shakti Party, Independent and a Congress defector. Recently, another Congress MLA joined the ruling party, and if the trend is any indication, more are likely to jump to the BJP bandwagon in the near future.

What brought the BJP to power was the anti- incumbency wave. People wanted a new government with new faces. “Give the BJP a chance” was the catchword. And the ruling party at the Centre used this to the hilt. After a struggle of more than three decades the BJP was able to endear itself to the people of Manipur.


The people want the BJP-led coalition government under chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh to bring change. Many civil and other organisations, including media groups, made a beeline to meet the new chief minister, each armed with their own list of “demands and proposals”.

The new government lifted the nearly four-month-old economic blockade of the state’s two main national highways within five days of assuming office. It was imposed by the Manipur-based United Naga Council, in protest against the Ibobi government’s decision to create a separate district for the Kukis in the Naga-majority Senapati district.

The chief minister’s “go to the Hills” slogan has also worked wonders. He was accorded a warm welcome when he visited Ukhrul — the district that had made known its dislike for Ibobi Singh. (Last September while visiting Ukhrul to inaugurate a public hospital, Naga rebels fired at his helicopter, forcing Singh to make a quick retreat) The new chief minister announced a Rs 300-crore development package for the district. Moreover, to please the people he said there will be a Sirohi (a flower found in Ukhrul) festival on the lines of the Sangai state festival.

Within a month of assuming office, the Biren government made several ambitious announcements and a “to do list”. One such is to clean up the mess created by the 15- year-old Congress rule. An anti-corruption cell has been set up through which more than 500 complaints have already been registered.

In an attempt to revive the pathetic and non-functioning government schools, the chief minister said his government will soon announce a policy for deducting salaries of employees who send their children to private schools. He also announced that 32,400 skilled but unemployed people will get jobs by 2022.

That said, there are hiccups as well. Not many approved the suspension of a regional medical institute director. The health minister (belonging to the National People’s Party) threatened to resign on the ground that he was not even consulted over the matter.

Meanwhile, the pre-poll promise of ensuring a decent burial for the unclaimed nine bodies still lying in Churachandpur town since September 2015 is not likely to be fulfilled soon. They were killed in clashes following the hurried passing of three Bills by the assembly in August 2015. The chief minister invited the Churachandpur Joint Action Committee against the “anti-Tribal Bills” spearheading the agitation, but there was no breakthrough.

Manipur’s 11th state legislative assembly is led by a new party, with a new chief minister. But apart from a few new faces, most legislators in the coalition are Congress members or from other regional parties.

Old wine in a new bottle would be an apt description. Chief minister Biren Singh himself was a Congressman until last year and had been a minister in the Ibobi cabinet. So, all in all, it is merely a change in the name of the party.

Even after the lifting of the economic blockade, there is no certainty about the Biren government reversing the Congress government’s decision to create seven new districts, which has been the UNC’s main demand. And it remains to be seen how the Centre will deal with the Nagas over their core demand for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.

If the Congress continues to lose members to the BJP, then the new government too will be no different from that of Ibobi’s — a free run with no opposition bench.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Imphal