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Manipur Election 2022 Exclusive: 'Biren Singh acts like a dictator; loyalty test key for Congress'

The Congress party, which has been out of power in the state, seeks to make a strong comeback in the 2022 assembly elections. Asianet Newsable caught up with Manipur Congress Vice President and party spokesperson Devabrata Singh

Manipur Election 2022 Exclusive interview state Congress Vice President Devabrata Singh
New Delhi, First Published Feb 4, 2022, 3:47 PM IST

With barely a month to go for assembly elections in Manipur, the campaign is already peaking. There is a hectic political activity with leaders jumping ship, parties rolling out candidate lists and trading accusations. The Congress party, which has been out of power in the state, seeks to make a strong comeback in the 2022 assembly elections. Asianet Newsable's Yacoob caught up with Manipur Congress Vice President and party spokesperson Devabrata Singh to closely understand the situation. Read on.

With 60 seats set to go for polls, how confident is the Manipur Congress unit of forming the government this time?

See, we have just declared candidates for ten more seats. In the first phase, we announced 40 seats. We have yet to announce candidates for the last ten seats; we will soon announce that. Out of the 60 seats, we have 20 new faces. They are very dynamic and quite popular in their respective assembly segments. With this new idea, we hope to get the majority. Secondly, we will align with any other party other than the BJP, and we will also make an announcement shortly. The Left parties, CPI and CMP, are also campaigning for Congress. The Left parties have fewer voters in some segments and may not elect a candidate. The number may vary from 2,000 to 7000. These votes will be swung into Congress. The CPI has decided to put up only two candidates. We are launching a joint campaign and appealing to the grassroots workers. Hopefully, we will get a good outcome once the results are declared, and we will form a government.

On what issues will your party fight the election?

The primary issue is that the BJP and its allies did not function properly, and they are breaking all the institutions starting from the day they formed the government in March 2017. They have been engineering defections among other parties to continue in the government. We are hoping to form a government with an absolute majority. We have kept our doors open for any other party against the BJP and wants to remove it from power. This will be our agenda.

What is the new thing that Congress can offer to Manipur?

We will introduce a new economic policy that will set a precedent in the Northeast. The policy will be specific to our hills and mountains, environment, and ecosystem. Manipur's trade and commerce will be given a major boost. 

They (BJP) have closed almost all trade in the last five years. The relationship with Myanmar is sliding down, Myanmar is aligning more with the Chinese government. Their contracts are now being given to Chinese nationals. This is one of the areas we will concentrate on. 

Secondly, we will give a realistic figure of 50,000 jobs every year. The primary focus will be hydel power agricultural and horticultural production. We will increase agriculture and allied sectors productivity in the next five years. These are some of the key areas we will work on.

Manipur Congress almost came close to forming a government in 2020 when NPP, the alliance partner of BJP, revolted against the government. But the BJP outsmarted Congress by taking in its MLAs. Why is Congress in such a condition?

The central government promotes poaching (engineering defections) and breaks the laws; what can we do? The central government and the Union Home Ministry are encouraging the defections. The previous governor, too, promoted defections. We went to court, but nothing happened. They have manipulated everything and denied the citizens their rights in a democracy and went against the rule of law.'Hum log kya kar sakte hain?' (What can we do?) 

We had managed to get 31 members last time, but the governor invited the BJP and alliance to form the government. Even at the swearing-in ceremony of Chief Minister N Biren Singh, Congress MLA was made to defect, and after six months, they continued to poach more MLAs. They are poaching, inducing, enticing, and doing everything to stay in power. Last month, the PM and Home Minister announced a Rs 5000 crore development project. This indicates that no development work has taken place in the last five years. The BJP government is showing the works taken up and completed during the Congress rule.

How do you rate the Biren Singh-led BJP government's performance?

The BJP declared tickets just two days ago. It indicates that the party is under his control, and Biren Singh is acting like a dictator. All his critics have been sidelined. Many Congress programmes are being dubbed as his achievements. There is trouble and growing discontent in the party. Some of the ministers in the cabinet are criticizing him; some have quit and joined Congress. We will get a majority, and even if we fall short, we will align with like-minded parties and form the government.

After the desertion of loyal leaders like Chaltonlien Amo Kakching Surachadra last week, the party is looking up to the Goa model for taking a loyalty test. Are you still not sure about leaders sticking to Congress principles?

It is very important at this moment (taking a loyalty test). We got the inspiration from the oath-taking process of elected representatives who became a minister or an executive to serve. Taking an oath means that he will not cheat the voters or defect from Congress. Once he defects, he will be termed a cheater and taught a lesson in the next election. The candidate will get a political consciousness that he should not defect. 

Once you (to MLA candidates) take an oath and get votes in the name of Congress, you will think twice before defecting, and it will create a consciousness that people voted for Congress, and that is what we are trying to do.

Ibobi Singh was chief minister thrice. Still, Congress has decided not to project him as the chief ministerial face. Why is that so? Who will be CM if the party comes to power?

In this election, we will fight under the joint leadership of him (Ibobi Singh) and the Manipur Pradesh Congress President Loken Singh. Once the results are announced, if we are aligning with other parties, we will have to seek their opinion as well and only then will a decision on the chief ministerial candidate be taken.

After tickets were issued in the rival camp, some BJP leaders joined Congress. Leaders like N Joykumar Singh and Saratchandra Singh have been given tickets. Is Congress not doing injustice to the aspiring party candidates who had worked for the party hoping to get tickets from respective assembly segments?

When we speak about Saratchandra's case, he was with Congress earlier. The Congress candidate Prithviraj defected to BJP and got a ticket. Hence, Saratchandra was given the ticket. It is the same thing with Joykumar Singh. In Joykumar Singh's assembly segment, the Congress youth leader was aspiring, and he too had been accommodated with a ticket to another assembly segment. There is nothing like crossing limits or injustice to candidates. Even in Govind Das's (Ex Congress Chief who defected to BJP a few months ago) assembly segments, we had to replace, and we have put a new face. There should be somebody. (pauses) you know who should be allowed to contest.

Why is there a volatile political situation in northeastern states like Manipur?

It is a very common and unavoidable situation that has led the voters and a lot of MLAs to think that the same party's government at the Centre and state will bring development. Very few, about 35 to 40 per cent, stay with the party they chose while contesting elections. The rest, 60 per cent of elected representatives, want to join the party in power (at the Centre). There is a lot of pressure on Northeast politics. How do I explain it to you? It is a habit of the elected representatives to be in power with the party that is at the Centre. 

Suppose if Congress comes to power at the Centre and Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, or Kapil Sibal become PM, all those who went to BJP will come back. It is a very opportunistic situation as the economy is not strong here, and MLAs think they will get funds. This was common in semi-urban and urban areas, and suddenly it has penetrated the hilly region. It is unfortunate, and it has become very difficult to deal with this.

The NPP and some tribal outfits have said they are open for an alliance post-elections. Will Congress explore the option for tie-up or prefer to sit in opposition?

Our only aim is to defeat BJP. We are ready to align with any other party to keep the BJP away from power. Be it the National People's Party or Naga People's Front; we will align with them. I would like to add that NPP does not have much of a support base in the Hill region. Tribal pockets are strong in their own way. It (NPP) has some base here and there but does not have prominence in the Hill region. Naga People Front, NPP and others will give rise to new dynamics this time.

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