After five years of political turmoil that saw many opposition Congress MPs switch sides and align themselves with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Manipur is once again heading to the polls. In an interview with Utpal ParacharManipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh explains BJP’s polling outlook, his government’s performance and other issues in the northeastern state.
Q: How is the campaign for the assembly elections going so far for the BJP? How many seats does the party expect to win this time around?
A. We had to rely on virtual rallies and social media for the campaign as the Electoral Commission banned physical gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We are optimistic of winning more than 40 seats.
Q: One of your coalition partners, NPP, has decided to fight alone. They also kept the possibility of joining the Congress or the BJP after the elections. Do you think this could impact the BJP’s prospects in the polls or in forming the next government?
A: We are fully convinced to form the next government.
Q: In your opinion, what are the greatest achievements of your government over the past five years?
A: Over the past five years, the BJP-led state government has achieved so much in terms of governance, social activities and development projects including infrastructure, in addition to improving overall public order.
Through Go to Hills, we have made significant progress in bridging the gap between hills and valleys and restoring the confidence of hill dwellers, while balancing the development budget in hill areas with increased funding based on topography.
Through the Go to Village mission, we have been able to extend governance to the village level, even in remote and inland areas of the state. People have been able to benefit directly from several social facilities and benefits under various schemes.
In addition to these two important missions, the government had put in place several social protection schemes for the disadvantaged and vulnerable sections of society, sportsmen, artists, etc., not to mention Chief Minister Hakshel gi Tengbang, the very first scheme state-sponsored health insurance for the poor and needy.
Here we would like to salute the historic decision of the Government of India under the leadership of Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to implement the Inner Line Permit System in the state and it will be remembered as one of the episodes most important policies of all time in the history of Manipur.
One of the most significant achievements of the government is to ensure a Manipur free from bandh blockade, which has long hampered development and peace in the state.
Q: You mentioned the repeal of Manipur’s AFSPA. But the BJP is the ruling party in both the state and the Centre. Do you think this could have an impact on voters’ votes in future elections?
A: The insurgency and AFSPA have always been important issues. However, in recent times, we have been able to reduce insurgent activity to a bare minimum while bringing peace and normalcy to the state. People are starting to feel the change and we are happy that we were able to achieve this in such a short time.
Q: There have been several instances of violence in the state, including the attack on the Assam Rifles convoy as well as the killing of political party members. Do you think there could be more such cases as the elections approach? If so, could this have an impact on the polls?
A: Security has been tightened ahead of the elections and the state is on high alert to prevent such incidents from happening.
Q: The unemployment rate in Manipur is 9.5% according to Union Labor Ministry data tabled in Parliament last year. It is the second highest in the northeast after Nagaland and the Covid-19 pandemic has made it worse. Do you think this could have an impact on BJP?
A: Our government has been able to generate 1,000,000 jobs in the MSME sector alone. Human resources are our strength and our greatest resource. Our young people are brimming with talent and innovative ideas, just waiting to be harnessed and nudged in the right direction. Banks provided the necessary financial support through programs such as StartUp and Next StandUp. Never before in the history of Manipur has a state government had such a good working relationship with the banks operating in the state.
Q: There was no final outcome on the issue of granting ST status to the Meitei community as well as the passing of Manipur Autonomous District Council (Hill Areas) Bill . Do you think these two issues could hurt BJP’s prospects in the Imphal Valley as well as the hill districts?
A: It would not impact our outlook because people understand that these issues require careful consideration and consensus.
Q: There has been speculation that the BJP may use the same option as it did in Assam last year to decide on the post of CM after the elections. What do you have to say about it?
A: It is up to the party leadership to decide.