M Asnikumar Singh
On March 15, 2017, N Biren Singh took oath as the Chief Minister of Manipur, a state then known for its numerous problems. 46 months on from that day, Manipur has had a remarkable turnaround with vibes about the future nothing but genuinely positive. As was the case for Manipur in many instances in the past(pre-2017), all of these could have taken the familiar path of initial optimism ending in ultimate heartbreak for the people of the state. But not with this man at the helm.
Analysts say Biren Singh has all the right ingredients; charisma, the right amount of energy, dynamism, being a political maverick, experience and most importantly, genuine empathy for his people. All these traits combined with the positivity and the rapid meaningful changes the state has witnessed under his leadership culminated in the now-famous moniker, ‘The People’s CM’ which was given to the man by the people of the place he loves to the core of his heart.
On October 17, 2016, Biren Singh joined the BJP and his reception programme still resonates in my mind even today. During the programme, he spoke his heart out about how he had become disillusioned and disheartened with the manner in which the Congress party had divided and ruled the state for 15 years and how the dictatorial leadership of the then Chief Minister had left the state in ruins in every parameter.
Having known the man since 2 decades, deep down I knew speaking those things must have been incredibly hard for N Biren Singh as he had given 10 years of his life to the Congress party, but the true love for Manipur inside his soul could no longer tolerate to sit and do nothing.
He also listed out a few important goals( bringing ILP for the state, bridging the hill valley gap, returning normalcy to the state, inclusive development of every nook and corner of the state) which the BJP would set out to achieve, if voted to power. It is safe to say, the government under Biren has delivered on those promises and beyond within a period of 3 years. The future can only be brighter.
A brief story behind the maverick
Biren Singh was born in a family troubled by hardships and grew up in a manner most kids do not. He saw the harsh realities of life at an early age but found his escape from life’s trials and tribulations in the beautiful game of football. His talent and love for the game would go on to shape his path in life. He excelled in the game and this secured him a respectable job as a soldier in the Border Security Forces.
A decade in Journalism and stepping up to a bigger calling
A desire to bring the truth to the hearts and minds of the people of Manipur would go on to set him on a different path. After 14 years of service in the BSF , he resigned to become a journalist, soon becoming a prominent one in the state with his daily ‘Naharolgi Thoudang’ becoming one of the most widely read and circulated papers in the state. As a journalist, he believed he had found his true calling but bringing the truth to the people was never going to enough when the door to do something even more meaningful opened up. After almost a decade as an editor, he took the plunge into the risky and unkown world of politics. As we all now know, this was where he was always destined to be.
In the 2002 elections, contesting for the first time on a DRPP (Democratic Revolutionary Peoples Party) he won and as a young MLA, he was appointed the chairman of the pollution control board. This is where people began to notice the then young MLA’s innovating, all-action leadership. He started the initiative of cleaning up the Nambul river with he himself taking part in the clean up programme. Back then, I was a young environmentalist who took part in the clean up of the river. I remember him as the MLA who made everyone else cleaning up the river with him comfortable. That trait is still there today.
Soon he became the Minister of State for vigilance, where bureaucrats in the state first got a taste of an MLA who took no prisoners when it came to incompetency and mismanagement by public officials.
By the time the 2007 elections came, Biren Singh had joined the Congress and was re-elected from his seat with a handsome margin. Deservedly, he was inducted in the cabinet with the portfolios of IFCD and Sports. As a cabinet minister, he made his mark as a straight talker, with a strong work ethic who was going to leave no stone unturned in changing the face of sports in Manipur (during his tenure as the sports minister, a sports complex was built in every district of the state). In political circles, he became famously known as a troubleshooter for then CM O Ibobi Singh. Biren Singh, by sticking to his roots and values stood out in a field of congressmen who were embedded in the culture of cronyism that ultimately led to the decay and decline of Congress.
Congress’s loss, BJP’s gain
But Biren Singh with all his good intentions, achievements and high work ethic as a minister unsettled many congressmen and made many ministerial colleagues insecure. By the 2012 elections, the maverick faced a tough test; overcome the obstacle of his own partymen plotting his downfall. He got re-elected from his seat on his own might but was unfairly dropped from the cabinet. This was Congress’s loss but ultimately would go on to be Manipur and BJP’s gain.
By 2016, the footballer had decided enough was enough and the lover of Manipur in him had decided to take the next step, a bold, risky but ultimately the right one. He decided to join the BJP.
‘The Special One’
As an avid football fan, I can’t help but use an anecdote and an analogy from the beautiful game itself. After Jose Mourinho (one of the last few remaining Mavericks in football) became the manager of Chelsea football club in 2004, in his first press conference(a press conference that remains in football folklore) he listed the reasons that convinced him Chelsea was the right club for him and then famously declared himself as the ‘Special One’ and listed down the things he would achieve for the club within a certain period of time and staying true to his words, he achieved those things. He remains one of the greatest managers ever to grace the game.
N Biren Singh has delivered on the promises of his party within record time and much more. Like Jose Mourinho, he too is a maverick. Like Mourinho, he too is a ‘Special One’. The only difference is he doesn’t have to say it himself.
A leader whose love for his country and state comes above anything else, his empathy and humble beginnings always keep him grounded as a leader when the situation demands. His background as a goalscorer and fearless journalist also enables him to be bold when the situation demands. It is safe to say that the footballer will continue to score many more goals for Manipur and its people.
I am one of the few lucky ones who took part in convincing the footballer to play for the right side. That is something I will always be proud of.
(The writer is a founder Secy of Manipur Thinkers Forum and presently State spokesperson of BJP Manipur Unit )