Nongthombam Biren Singh, who on Wednesday was sworn in as the first BJP Chief Minister of Manipur, is a politician who has donned many hats.
A graduate from the Manipur University in Arts, Mr. Singh hails from Luwangsangbam Mamang Leikai, a rural area in Imphal East district and has been representing the Heingang Assembly constituency since 2002.
The 56-year-old politician has been a national-level footballer. He has served in the central paramilitary forces and also worked as an editor of a local newspaper.
Mr. Singh told The Hindu that his foray into active politics began in June 2001, when he, along with other leaders, started the Democratic Revolutionary People Party. Subsequently he joined the Congress.
“After joining the Congress in 2003, I became Minister of State for Vigilance. Later, I was handed the portfolios of Irrigation and Flood Control along with Youth Affairs and Sports,” he said.
Mr. Singh spoke at length about his love for sports and journalism. “I got into the BSF through sports quota and sports, particularly football, remains my first love. I served the BSF from 1979 to 1993,” he said.
From 1993 to 2002, Mr. Singh said he was associated with vernacular newspaper Naharlogi Thoudang (Responsibilities of Youth). He pointed out that during that period he was also president of the All Manipur Working Journalist Union for a brief time.
During his stint as editor of the paper, he was arrested for publishing a statement — which the police claimed was “anti national and seditious” — in April 2000.
Former close aide of ex-CM
Mr. Singh was once considered a close aide of the former Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh. He was the spokesperson for the Manipur government between 2007 and 2012 and later spokesperson of the Congress. However, things started changing after 2012. In the last term of the Congress government, he did not make it into Mr. Ibobi Singh’s Cabinet.
Mr. Singh maintained that he had no issues with not getting the ministerial berth as it was on a “rotation basis.”
However, sources within the Congress say that in the last quarter of 2016, Mr. Singh and certain others lobbied within the party for a Cabinet reshuffle. In the reshuffle, only three Cabinet ministers could be dropped and when he was offered a Cabinet berth, Mr. Singh refused to accept it.
He left the Congress to join the BJP in October 2016, hardly five months before the 2017 Assembly polls. In fact, some photographs at the Manipur Congress headquarters still have Mr. Singh alongside State Congress president T.N. Haokip and other office bearers.
Dark horse in the BJP
Though relatively new in the party, his elevation as the leader of BJP Legislative Party on Monday has been possible because of host of factors, including the defeat of BJP heavyweights like Thounaojam Chaoba Singh — a veteran politician and BJP State president, who ended up losing up from the Nambol seat. Just before the polls prominent BJP leader K. Joykishan switched sides and joined the Congress.
Even when the posters and campaign materials were being printed by the BJP in local newspapers as late as the first week of march, Mr. Singh's name was missing. Thongam Biswajit Singh, a young leader who was also a key contender for the post, lost out because he lacked administrative experience.
Politicians and people cutting across party lines in Manipur, describe Mr. Singh as a very accessible and friendly person. “He is also popular in the media and can make friends easily among people from the hills and valley. N. Biren is also a friend of many of us in the Congress,” a senior Congress leader said.
Tough task ahead
However, Mr. Singh underlined the tough task ahead of him. “The roadmap for me will be delivering proper governance to the people. I assure the people that our team will bring good governance to the people of Manipur,” he said. The Chief Minister emphasised that it was corruption and maladministration that had resulted in the people voting for the BJP.
The party secured 21 seats in the recently held civic polls while it did not manage to win even a single seat in the 2012 Assembly polls.
The first task ahead for the new Chief Minister will be clearing the blockade on the national highways that has crippled the State for over four months after the creation of new districts. He will also have to manage the two key allies — the Naga People Front ( NPF) and the National People Party ( NPP) — which may have conflicting interests from his own party.