If you are a person who believes in first impressions, you are unlikely to look past Sapam Kangleipal, an independent candidate in the upcoming Manipur elections, although it might be for all the wrong reasons. 

The 40-year-old has 24 cases against him, including criminal intimidation, criminal conspiracy, being a member of a terrorist organisation, cyber terrorism, attempt to murder, among others, was on the run for over a decade before being arrested, only to escape custody again before finally being out on bail in 2020. And the cases include those under the dreaded National Security Act (NSA). 

Such is Sapam’s record that the National People’s Party, which nominated him from the Lamlai Assembly Constituency, dropped his name from the party’s final list of candidates after finding out the sheer number of pending criminal cases against him. This was after Kangleipal had joined NPP on February 3 in the presence of NPP national president Conrad K Sangma. He was awarded the NPP ticket on the same day along with eight other candidates.

It must, however, be pointed out that none of the charges has even been framed, let alone proven, and hence, by law, Sapam is innocent until proven guilty: a point he makes clear during our conversation. He is also not a man of wealth, he explains. His declared assets are only worth Rs 34,975, where Rs 20,000 cash is in his hand and the remaining Rs 14,975 is in his bank account. Kangleipal is a farmer-cum-social worker and his source of income is from agricultural products, as per the affidavit.

During a recent interaction at the Manipur Press Club, Imphal, he told the media, “I feel no shame as the charges against me are for being a member of a revolutionary group and not for crimes like drug peddling.” In an election where many leaders have cases booked under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, Sapam believes people see the difference between his past and others. 

But beyond accusations and allegations, it is clear that Sapam has been a ‘political’ person all his adult life. Born in 1981, Sapam joined the All Manipur Young Pioneers Organization, a local youth organisation at the age of 17, and by 2000, he had become its president. Between 2002 and 2008, he founded the Manipur Forward Youth Front (MAFYF). The organisation came in shape during a turbulent time in Manipur’s story: violence was a daily occurrence, blockades were common, and civilians lived in fear of both the insurgents and the security forces. 

Manipur 2022: Will earmark Rs 100 cr to eradicate unemployment, says Th Biswajit

“People understand the reality of all cases pending against me,” says 40-year-old Sapam Kangleipal, who has 24 cases against him

The year 2008 turned a pivotal one for Sapam, who by then had become a well-known activist and human rights defender. His organisation had been demanding dialogue between insurgents and the government to ensure lasting peace. But in March that year, tragedy struck. Some armed officers of the People Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), an armed opposition group in Manipur, reportedly shot dead two girls and a boy, while another girl sustained injury causing her to become blind, at a local traditional festival dance (known as Thabal Chongba) at Heirok, Thoubal district. As a result of the violence by these non-state actors, the residents of the Heirok village began demanding guns to defend themselves in case of future armed assault. 

Later, another village, Lilong Chajing in Imphal West district, also demanded guns for self-protection. The Government of India implemented a plan of arming civilians in Heirok and Chajing with 300 and 200 weapons, respectively, and recruitment for issuing guns began in May. To protest against this, on May 7, 2008, Sapam was arrested at the Manipur Press Club, in Imphal, for organising a public discussion on “Arming the Civilians and Its Possible Consequences (in Manipur)” and making statements regarding the above issue in the Sangai Express Daily dated May 6, 2008, reportedly demanding the resignation of the then Chief Minister of Manipur in response to his failure in terms of governance. 

On May 13, he was again brought before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Imphal, and released on bail. However, the police arrested him again outside the court building and sent him to jail under National Security Act (NSA), under which he could be detained for one year. By December, Sapam, who was admitted to the then JN (now JNIMS) hospital, escaped from the hospital and was on the run until August 2019, when he was finally captured. 

A NEW DEMOCRATIC START

It is 2022 now, and Sapam is clear that he wants himself, and his constituency, to have a new start. Talking about his Communist roots and his ‘transition’ to democracy, Sapam, in a written response, says, “It’s a universal acceptance that Communist believe and practice democracy. We have to have a new idea, not a replica of any other thought. I wish to serve my people. So after almost 2 decades, I am here again in my birthplace serving my people and Manipur in general. So joining in the democratic process is like a continuation of my political work.” 

Manipur: Amit Shah vows to end Kuki militancy in 5 years

Sapam is also aware that his constituency is well aware of his past. “People understand the reality of all cases pending against me. People can easily differentiate between patriots and anti-social elements,” he said. 

Regarding his ouster from the NPP, Sapam has accepted the same and taken it in his stride. “I feel that it’s my first mistake in my new political journey. I will try not to repeat such a mistake in future,” he says. 

Far more than his past, Sapam is eager to talk about the issues of his constituency, Lamlai. “We have 12,000 hectares of agricultural land but no irrigation facility. We have energetic people, but no place to work,” he says.

Lamlai, he says, is famous for its handloom. “We need to prioritise agriculture and the handloom sector. These are the two sectors that can defeat poverty in my constituency. We have to have a concrete water policy by harvesting rainfall, use of groundwater etc. The establishment of a handloom emporium by a group of people who can then help export the handloom production of the local weaver is the need of the hour,” he adds. 

Also read: Manipur 2022: Polling for absentee voters begins in Imphal West



Latest Stories

Leave a comment

Leave a comment Cancel reply