In this exclusive interview with EastMojo, Consulting Editor Sadiq Naqvi poses some tough questions for Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh.
Click on the link below to watch the full interview:
Read full transcript of the interview below:
Sadiq Naqvi: How did you deal with the Covid-19 pandemic?
N Biren Singh: We started in advance. Right from January 18, we started checking at the airport. Mass awareness was done through Ima market (Women’s market), most crowded areas and all border areas. People were very cooperative. That is the reason we overcame COVID for now. We established quarantine centres in each constituency. All the 60 MLAs were made in-charge. This was the most crucial and the easiest part to deal with the situation.
Sadiq Naqvi: What was the difficult part?
N Biren Singh: Bringing back all those who were stranded outside the state. There were 45,000-50,000 returnees coming back by train and by air. Their management – bringing them back by bus from Jiribam, distributing them to the quarantine centres, providing them with food and medical facilities – was the most difficult part.
Sadiq Naqvi: Did you feel the centre was not adequately helping?
N Biren Singh: There was tremendous support from the Centre. When the normal flights were cancelled, they deployed chartered flights to send medical supplies.
Sadiq Naqvi: What about vaccination? How is that going?
N Biren Singh: Vaccination is going good… People are cooperating.
Sadiq Naqvi: What would be the average percentage of vaccination in the state?
N Biren Singh: Cent percent (vaccination) of the healthcare workers has been completed. Now vaccination of those above 60 years has started. Covid is also almost gone from the state. Only around 20-25 (cases) remain. So, people are not caring about the vaccination. Without vaccination we will be okay, that kind of mind-set is there.
Sadiq Naqvi: Is the government doing something about this hesitance for vaccination?
N Biren Singh: Government is asking them to get vaccinated. But we are not forcing them. We are telling them they should come voluntarily, we cannot force them.
Sadiq Naqvi: I read that you want to build a big statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Could you tell us more about that plan?
N Biren Singh: In Moirang, one statue is there but it’s not enough, according to me. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted the tricolour for the first time at that place in British India. For Netaji’s 125th birth anniversary, there is a house where bomb fell, the shed is still there. The government has acquired the land along with the house so that we can preserve the area as a historical place. The owner of the house has been allotted land elsewhere. I want to make a big Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose statue along with the tallest and the biggest Indian flag in the Northeast. I have requested the Prime Minister. By April, even if statue is not there, flag will be there and the foundation of the statue will be there.
Sadiq Naqvi: You felicitated Captain Captain Soiba Maningba Rangnamei for his courage during the Galwan clash, drawing criticism from the Chinese media…
N Biren Singh: I saw the courage of my son of the soil. How he reacted to the intruders to save, to protect the boundaries and territorial integrity of the nation was the moment of my happiness, my pride. I did nothing wrong. I was encouraging my sepoy, my captain who stood for national integrity, national unity.
Sadiq Naqvi: How do you look back at your tenure as the chief minister?
N Biren Singh: Political turmoil was there because it is a coalition. Then there was Corona for almost one year. But I am satisfied. Most of the missions I took up have been almost successful. See ILP (inner line permit). Many people died and many were injured demanding inner line permit or similar act and nothing was happening. But with blessings from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, suddenly like a gift from god, ILP was extended to Manipur. That was the greatest achievement of my government.
Sadiq Naqvi: How has ILP helped the state?
N Biren Singh: We are a minority. The indigenous population is few in comparison to population of other states. Our population is hardly 26-28 lakhs. If outsiders like the Rohingya from Myanmar, Nepalese from Nepal come and settle here, it creates anxiety in the minds of the indigenous people about identity. So, with ILP, any outsider cannot purchase land. They can take it on lease or through the permit system. People are grateful to the nation that the vast nation is worrying about the small indigenous population.
Sadiq Naqvi: Are people not worried about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)?
N Biren Singh: Where ILP is, CAA will not be. We are safe. Not only Manipur, but also Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram are all safe.
Sadiq Naqvi: But it remains an issue in Assam…
N Biren Singh: Clause 6 of the AASU agreement (Assam Accord) will save the Assamese also.
Sadiq Naqvi: Coming back to your term as CM, could you tell us the changes you have been able to bring in…
N Biren Singh: For democratically elected governments, the primary duty is to convert the government into people’s governments. That was my first mission. Earlier, there were so many fake encounters, hill-valley divide, bands and blockades continuously happening. As soon as my government came in, my aim was to bridge gap between communities, to not have any bandhs and blockades. Then I started the ‘Go to Hills’ campaign. Now Hill and Valley are becoming one. There is no bandh, there is no blockade. We have been able to achieve cohesive relationship between communities… People are happy. Manipur is economically not so rich. Majority is below poverty line. We have started many schemes…
Sadiq Naqvi: But there is criticism that this development is yet to reach to the last mile…
N Biren Singh: Yes, you are right. As I told you, there was political turmoil and instability in the last two and a half years. Then Covid-19 happened. So many things still left to be done. But, as far as our commitment to the people, we are at least delivering. We are delivering 80-90 percent…
Sadiq Naqvi: What was the reason for the political turmoil? Has it been completely resolved?
N Biren Singh: (Laughs) Because of the coalition. Running a coalition government is not easy. Now everything is stable.
Sadiq Naqvi: Will there be a coalition after next elections?
N Biren Singh: I cannot say. Pre-poll coalition will not be there. But it will depend on Central leaders.
Sadiq Naqvi: Manipur shares border with Myanmar… Recently, we saw a lot of people entering into Mizoram after the coup. Are you worried about the happenings in Myanmar?
N Biren Singh: I am really worried…The decision to lend a helping hand has to be taken nationally… As an immediate neighbouring state CM, we are prepared to welcome any civilian who may cross over from Myanmar due to military atrocities. So all people, whoever comes, we will give shelter, we will serve them, we will protect them. We have already prepared for that.
It is very unfortunate. Democracy should be there.
Sadiq Naqvi: What is Manipur’s stand on the ongoing Naga talks?
N Biren Singh: Manipur’s view is very clear. Manipur wants to live together and territorial integrity of Manipur should be intact. Then within, Nagas are there, Meiteis are there, Muslim Meities are there, Kukis are there. We have to live together and share whatever we have. That is the motto. There should be a peaceful, amicable solution. I have requested this in the Assembly also. I requested the central leaders to expedite it…
Sadiq Naqvi: When Home Minister was here recently, what did you tell him on this issue?
N Biren Singh: He met all the civil society leaders… He personally listened to what the people want. They will take a good decision I think.
Sadiq Naqvi: Naga groups want integration of Naga inhabited areas… How do you see this demand?
N Biren Singh: This is why we already said that the territorial boundaries of the state should remain intact. But within that let us share…
Sadiq Naqvi: Drug trafficking is a big issue. How are you dealing with it?
N Biren Singh: Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur are the main routes for the Golden Triangle area. Immediately after my government came, I declared war on drugs. People, the youth, are badly affected. Now, the government’s war on drugs has become a people’s movement. You will be surprised to know that all the 33 tribes of the hill areas of the state and the valley have pledged jointly that they will fully eradicate poppy plantations. People have started destroying it and government has started giving alternate plants… Happy news is that civil society has started joining the anti-drugs campaign… If this momentum continues, within years we will be able to fully eradicate it from the state.
Sadiq Naqvi: There have been allegations that sections of the government have been lenient on certain people who are involved in such activities…
N Biren Singh: This is the version of the political guys. We cannot blame the court. What is the use of having a court, judges, Supreme Court. We should not do like that… In dealing with drugs, politically and socially, no compromise, no friendships, no party is involved. That is my stand.
Sadiq Naqvi: You have been a journalist before you entered politics. How do you see freedom of press?
N Biren Singh: In many channels, there are many kinds of discussions, shouting, allegations, provocations, but no one is arrested… We should care about one thing – to destabilise the state, the nation, there is outside hand. I don’t want to elaborate on the insurgency of the Northeast. How did it come up? How is it so powerful? Why? Who are the instigators?
Here in Manipur, many discussions are going on. Even I was arrested. Why? I did publish an article, copied a speech of an elder. He spoke then that you should not disrupt the movement of the underground, the separatist. My reporter simply published what he said. I was arrested. I was in jail. I told the court that if you disrupted or blocked the meeting, I would not have published. But you allowed the meeting and I simply reported the speech. So you should not arrest me. Then I was acquitted.
This time also, somebody published how underground should behave and that’s how they will be stronger. That kind of articles and identification of the writer were not given… When we asked the editor who this guy was, he said I don’t know. If someone sends you an unknown letter asking for separation from India, will you publish?
I would like to appeal to all the journalist community, please don’t take hasty decisions… Why and how the government is registering a case against a particular person, please find out the case merit first. One journalist was arrested because he used derogatory words against a tribal woman. But because he belongs to the journalist community, media has covered it as journalist arrested. His arrest was a separate case. Why are you mixing it up? We should give freedom to the media. Freedom of expression is there under Article 19 (1). But we should not forget Article 19 (2), decency and morality… Freedom of expression, freedom of press, I will fully protect and will fully support.
Sadiq Naqvi: Is jailing journalists a solution?
N Biren Singh: No, why should we jail journalists? I am not going to jail any journalist or anyone for a particular professional job. But when something goes beyond the journalistic ethics – say if I am a journalist and behave in an uncivilized, derogatory, hateful way towards a community – and I am arrested, it is not related to journalism.
Journalist means what I write and what I ask for the welfare of the nation and the public. But individual matters, if I shout or say something to a tribal girl and she files a case, that should not be treated as journalist. I should be isolated from the journalist community and let it be dealt as a legal matter. This is what I want to appeal to the media community. Otherwise, media is free, media is the fourth pillar of the nation in the democratic setup.
Who all were arrested and why here in Manipur in the last four years? No editor was arrested, no journalist was arrested for publication, but for individual things. Stopping police after getting drunk and telling them I am a journalist. That cannot be ignored.
Sadiq Naqvi: Journalists say that if they criticise you, they land in trouble…
N Biren Singh: No, never. Show me the example….
Sadiq Naqvi: Kishorechandra Wangkhem said that he was jailed because he criticised the chief minister…
N Biren Singh: No. He was the guy who used derogatory word for a woman.
Sadiq Naqvi: No, before this incident also he was jailed…
N Biren Singh: Can you use in the media ‘f**K’, ‘you f**k’…No, right? Article 19 (1) talks about freedom of expression, Article 19 (2) talks of decency and morality. Both should be together. These two we should not forget. I am not against journalists, because I am a journalist… But decency, morality and anti-national, I cannot compromise.
Sadiq Naqvi: Could you tell us about the photo which recently came out on social media where children were bowing down…
N Biren Singh: That is a very funny thing. Manipur has Nagas, Kukis, Meiteis… Meiteis in particular. I am a Meitei and we have this tradition from the forefathers, kneeling down, bowing down, respecting the elders. Even I myself do it. I bow down to the elders. I am the CM, but when some elders come, I do bow down. That is our custom. That is our pride. Some people have started criticising. I told them, you come and learn from here.
Sadiq Naqvi: Congress is demanding that the 12 MLAs who held office of profit should be disqualified. What is your government’s view?
N Biren Singh: I am not commenting regarding what the Election Commission of India said. But my observation is that the case in Delhi where MLAs were disqualified and our case is different… Retrospectively, we cannot punish them. Immediately after knowing that, it is unconstitutional they are not in the office of profit. So I think we are safe.