Biren Singh, the footballer who dribbled through the political field to be Manipur’s chief minister

Nongthombam Biren Singh managed to win the approval of his party on Sunday to get a second term as chief minister of the strife-torn state of Manipur. Singh who led his party to a spectacular victory earlier this month, started out life as a footballer and was recruited into the Border Security Force on the strength of his ability with the ball.

However, he soon metamorphosed into a journalist to become editor of a vernacular daily ‘Naharolgi Thoudang’. The move into journalism soon saw him foray into the world of politics some two decades ago as an MLA from the Democratic Revolutionary People’s Party.

A move into Congress followed soon after and a reward in the form of a cabinet berth in 2003, placed him as a ‘go-to’ person in Imphal.

He became one of the then chief minister Ibobi Singh’s trusted lieutenant and after retaining his assembly seat in 2007 election, was given charge of the heavy portfolios of Irrigation & Flood Control, Youth Affairs & Sports, and Consumer Affairs & Public Distribution.

Although he retained his seat again in 2012 for a third consecutive term, Biren Singh had a fallout with Ibobi Singh against whom he eventually led a revolt.

Eventually finding it difficult to continue, he resigned from the Congress and joined BJP in October 2016.

Elections in March 2017 and the inability of the Congress which emerged as the single largest party but without a clear majority to swing sufficient numbers its way, saw BJP cobble together a coalition government with Biren Singh as the new chief minister.

The journey since then has been upwards though not without hiccups. The 61-year-old has been widely credited with bringing peace and bridging the divide between the people of the valley and the hills, in this insurgency-hit, multi-ethnic state during his tenure as chief minister in the past five years.

His initiatives – ‘Go to hills’, ‘Meeyamgi Numit’ (People’s Day on 15th of every month) and ‘Hill Leaders’ Day’ – have made it easier for people in far flung hamlets to access their elected leaders and top bureaucrats.

While he managed to last the five year term, he too faced internal challenges with Thongam Biswajit Singh also eyeing the Chief Minister’s post.

The challenge by Biswajit Singh saw both of them rushing twice to Delhi for adjudication within the last ten days. However, support from the central leadership which weighed in with him as well as from state unit stalwarts like A Sharda Devi, the state BJP chief, eventually saw Biren fending off the challenge and unanimously being chosen as chief minister of the state.

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