Okram Ibobi Singh was sworn in as Manipur Chief Minister for the third consecutive term on Wednesday. Governor Gurubachand Jagat administered the oath of office and secrecy at a function at Raj Bhavan. No other Minister was sworn in.
Interacting with journalists shortly after the ceremony, Mr. Singh said he would expand the Ministry before March 19, when he plans to convene an Assembly session to pass Finance Bills. He said he would soon go to New Delhi to consult the high command on the composition of the Ministry. In the 60-member House, he can have 11 more Ministers.
Meanwhile, the tug of war between the two contenders for Deputy Chief Minister has intensified. Initially, G. Gaikhangam had an edge over Phunzathang Tonsing, Power Minister in the outgoing Ministry, as he has been Pradesh Congress Committee president for long. However, with the support of first-timers, Mr. Tonsing says he is one of the seniormost Congressmen in the State. They also questioned Mr. Gaikhangam's contribution to the party's landslide in the January 28 elections. On Tuesday, Mr. Tonsing and the first-timers submitted a memorandum to AICC observer Luizino Felerio.
As for Mr. Ibobi Singh, he has scripted political history in the northeast region, having made a hat-trick in Manipur, where no other Chief Minister could complete even the first term, the State having been afflicted with floor crossings.
The 64-year-old Ibobi Singh first won from Khangabok in 1984 as an independent for, no party would allot ticket to a nondescript politician who was out on a fishing expedition. But then he was made Chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Board and his good performance caught the attention of Congress leaders. He got the party ticket in the 1990 Assembly elections. He was made Minister in-charge of Industries and the Manipur Housing and Urban Development.
After the 2002 elections, the post of Chief Minister was virtually thrust on him. Some time ahead of the elections, most of the prominent leaders had left the Congress fearing that the party was on the downslide. Moreover, all its heavyweights were defeated. Mr. Ibobi Singh was the only Congressmen of some standing left in the party. As it secured 20 out of the 60 seats, the Governor invited Mr. Ibobi Singh to explore forming the next Ministry. It was no problem for Mr. Singh as politicians in Manipur change their loyalties without batting an eyelid. Several parties joined the Secular Progressive Front to form the next Ministry. In the course of time, all MLAs joined the Congress. The five-member CPI was the only party which preserved its identity in the coalition.
By the 2007 Assembly elections the Congress improved its position and secured 30 seats. Mr. Singh became aware of his meteoric rise and experimented with dynastic politics. Of the two constituencies he won from, he resigned the Khangabok seat to make way for his wife, Landhoni, so far a conservative housewife. She won the by-election and this time too she defeated her nearest rival by a wide margin. Mr. Singh supported his nephew Okram Henry also in the last elections.
Mr. Singh managed to stick to power and gain support on many populist issues. The disparate and decimated Opposition parties did not pose any threat to the Congress. The people had nobody to turn to when they groaned under a 3-month blockade or price hike and shortages of all goods. In fact, Mr. Gaikhangam used to say on public fora that there was no Opposition in Manipur and that 19 Opposition members were seeking Congress ticket.
Apart from opposing any move to vivisect Manipur, Mr. Singh would not even allow anybody to discuss the issue in his presence. He once said the architects and supporters of the idea could leave the State bag and baggage since there was no question of disintegration of Manipur, which has a written history of more than 2,000 years. He did not permit Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the NSCN(IM) which has been holding talks with the Indian government for the last 14 years, to enter Manipur saying that he would create trouble. He would be arrested as an FIR is pending against him. Mr. Singh convinced Union Home Minister P. Chiadambaram, who wondered why there was an objection to a person engaged in peace efforts to visiting his ancestral village after 40 years.