Manipur 2022: How A Push For Peace And Progress Yielded Rich Dividends For BJP

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Mar 14, 2022 01:24 AM +05:30 IST
Manipur 2022: How A Push For Peace And Progress Yielded Rich Dividends For BJPBJP candidates for the Manipur assembly elections 2022
  • Bridging the Hill-Valley divide and delivering accountable governance seems to have delivered a victory for the BJP in Manipur.

The handsome victory of the BJP in Manipur held no surprises, not at least to the discerning political observer. The Nongthombam Biren Singh government in the state had, over the past five years, brought about a paradigm change in the state.

Manipur, under decades of Congress rule, had been wracked by insurgency, ethnic strife and frequent shutdowns that completely derailed normal life and livelihoods. Widespread corruption, nepotism, poor governance by an apathetic bureaucracy controlled by venal politicians, and lack of development had made lives miserable for the ordinary folks of the state.

The BJP-led coalition government that came to power in the state changed all that. “We decided to make things right from day one. I told my officers that they would have to perform and ensure development. Corruption would not be tolerated and pilferage or misuse of funds meant for development works and welfare measures would not be countenanced,” Biren Singh told Swarajya.

Singh, a former footballer, had his priorities chalked out very clearly. “I also told my ministerial colleagues and officers that we have to ensure responsive governance and transparency. Ministers and officers were asked to remain accessible to the masses at all times,” Singh added.

He set a personal example by camping in the remote areas of the state to listen to grievances and demands of the people and solve them on the spot. “Issues which would remain pending for months, if not years, were addressed immediately. Not only the chief minister, but the officers also got to know about the needs of the people and lacuna in the execution of many projects. It had been a great learning experience for the entire state administration,” said state chief secretary J. Suresh Babu.

The chief minister travelling to the remote hill areas of the state and holding camps there to listen closely to the issues concerning the people of those areas had a salutary effect, said additional chief secretary Letkhogin Haokip. “It bridged the emotional divide between the hills and the Imphal Valley to a large extent,” he explained.

Manipur has two distinct geographical regions--the Imphal Valley and the hills surrounding the Valley. Imphal Valley forms just ten percent of the state’s total landmass, but is home to almost sixty percent of the population of the state. The Imphal Valley is populated mostly by Meiteis, 80 percent of whom are Vaishanvites and the rest follow the traditional animistic Sanamahi faith. The Hills are populated by the tribal Nagas and Kukis, almost all of them being Christians. A little over eight percent of the state’s population are Muslims--known as Pangals--and they also live in the Imphal Valley.

The tribals in the Hills have, for decades, resented the dominance of the Meiteis in the state’s politics and bureaucracy and have alleged discrimination. The tribals have harboured deep resentment against what they felt was the deliberate neglect of the hills by the Meiteis. This had created a very sharp Hills-Valley divide in the state and the ethnic tensions and strife resulting from this had often led to long and debilitating disruptions in the state.

“Our priority was to address this divide and erase the feeling of neglect and discrimination that the people of the hills had harboured,” said Thongam Biswajit Singh, the virtual number two in the outgoing state cabinet.

The resentment harboured by the tribals due to the perceived neglect of the Hills was, to a large extent, justified. Successive Congress governments paid little attention to the development of the hills and did little to ensure that the tribals in the hills received the benefits of state and centrally-sponsored welfare schemes.

The BJP-led coalition government prioritised development of the hills and over the past five years, massive and fast-paced development works have transformed the hills in terms of connectivity and infrastructure like healthcare centres, schools and other facilities.

“I made it clear to the officers posted in the Hills that they would have to remain there and made them responsible for the execution of developmental and welfare schemes in the areas under their respective jurisdiction. A very strong, strict and effective monitoring mechanism was set up and we held periodic meetings to review the progress of projects and implementation of welfare schemes. That helped and the feeling of neglect and discrimination have, to a large extent, been addressed,” said Biren Singh.

Along with the development of the Hills, the Biren Singh government also set strict timelines for completion of long-pending infrastructure projects in the Imphal Valley. “Earlier, road construction projects would go on forever, severely inconveniencing the people. Pilferage of funds, and time and cost overruns, bedevilled every infrastructure project under the Congress governments of the past in Manipur,” said Biswajit Singh who held the public works, power, rural development and some other crucial portfolios in the cabinet.

Outgoing chief minister Biren Singh added that at the very start of his tenure in 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior Union ministers had asked him to ensure not only fast-paced development, but also transparency and accountability in development works and implementation of social welfare schemes. The Union Government, he told Swarajya, was very clear that corruption would have to be rooted out and that “we should ensure zero leakage of funds for development projects and welfare schemes”.

“The agenda of good governance free of corruption, nepotism and other ills, and equitable development targeting all communities and sections of society set by Prime Minister Modi through his sabka saath, sabka vikash, sabka vishwas has won the confidence of the people of Manipur and they have rewarded us by voting us back to power. People of Manipur want this to continue,” said Biren Singh.

The Biren Singh government also took the insurgency bull by its horns immediately after it assumed office in the state in 2017. Along with reaching out to the many insurgent groups and impressing upon them the need to come to the negotiating table since insurgency was harming the masses, the state government also gave the security forces--the army, paramilitary and state police--a free hand to tackle the recalcitrant groups.

“A number of strong, but not ham-handed, measures were initiated. We decided that the rampant extortion by insurgent groups that was holding Manipur hostage and impeding its development would have to be stopped. Very strong but covert steps to eliminate this menace were taken and today, extortion by insurgent groups has come down to nearly zero,” said a senior police officer of the state.

The next five years, said the police officer, would see the end of insurgency in Manipur. “No serious effort to end insurgency was ever undertaken in the past because everyone--politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, security forces and the insurgents themselves--used to benefit from it while the common people used to suffer terribly. We decided to end this toxic nexus and by ending extortions, the nexus was broken,” said Biswajit Singh.

Manipur has also been benefiting from the massive connectivity projects initiated by the Narendra Modi government over the past eight years under the ‘Act East’ policy. Manipur is set to become the gateway to Southeast Asia and will emerge as an important trade, manufacturing and logistics hub for the entire region.

“People of Manipur have realised that they will benefit immensely from the state becoming the gateway to Southeast Asia. They want the swift pace of progress and development to continue. And that is why they have reposed their faith in us,” said Biren Singh.

Top BJP leaders of the state affirm that the development agenda of the past five years would be pursued with greater vigour now. And within the next five years, the face of Manipur will change entirely.

Manipur today is free of fear, strife and a deep sense of foreboding that used to hang heavy over the state. Fast-paced development, an end to insurgency and the rampant extortions of the past, and good governance has fired hopes and dreams among the people for progress and prosperity. It is no wonder then that pro-incumbency has returned the BJP to power with a majority of its own.

Also read:

-From despair to dream: The fundamental change Manipur has undergone over last five years

-Manipur 2022: The BJP will ride to power in Manipur on the crest of development works and dreams of progress it has ignited, says Cabinet minister Th. Biswajit Singh

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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