‘The working style (has to change). Central forces (in Manipur) must actively support the state government’s initiatives and help convince the original tribal people that the (state) government is not against them’

IN HIS first interview since facing a significant electoral loss in the Lok Sabha elections, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh spoke to Ritika Chopra about why he feels the BJP lost to Congress in the state, what needs to change in the future, and whether the changed equations within the NDA would affect the Centre’s approach towards him and his government in the state. Edited excerpts:

This was the first election you faced since the violence erupted in Manipur. What do you think of the message delivered by the voters?

In the last year, due to the complexity of the violence, neither the state nor central government has been able to take strong actions against the groups on both sides. This has led to dissatisfaction among the valley people with both governments (in the state and at the Centre). Although law and order is a state issue, the Central forces play a key role here, yet we are not meeting public expectations.

This is why we lost in the valley. In the outer areas, similar sentiments exist. Resolving the issues in Manipur is complex, many don’t understand the core problems. Identifying and addressing these core issues is key to solving the violence.

Isn’t this also a verdict against you?

Why not? As CM, I must take full responsibility. Some agencies see this (the violence) as a fight between two ethnic communities, but I don’t. We began identifying and deporting illegal migrants, launched a war on drugs in 2018, destroying poppy plantations. Indigenous tribes are our citizens, but somebody is trying to misinterpret that we are against them. This sparked the violence.

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You’re referring to ‘somebody’ and outsiders, but this vote was cast by the citizens, not outsiders…

They (outsiders) have injected venom and instigated the Kukis to strike against the Meiteis. The valley people were endorsing the actions of the government. It’s only the outsiders involved, like the drug mafia. Those who came from outside have power and have instigated the tribal Kuki people, leading to retaliation from the valley people.

In the election, the valley people denied our mandate because they expected the state and central governments to punish the illegal immigrants, which we failed to do. Since the violence started, both governments have not acted actively against the culprits. But this will improve.

But this was a democratic exercise. Why are you alluding to the influence of outside forces?

Yes, this is happening in Manipur and in India. Western countries are trying to dethrone Modi-ji, reducing our (winning) margin.

Post the election verdict, what, in your opinion, needs to change now in Manipur?

The working style (has to change). Central forces (in Manipur) must actively support the state government’s initiatives and help convince the original tribal people that the (state) government is not against them, but is targeting outsiders who came after 1961.

Are you saying that the Central forces are not supporting you right now?

The state government is working to protect the indigenous people from drugs, illegal migrants and deforestation. Some agencies wrongly see this as targeting a specific community. That perception must change. They should support the state government’s approach. We are identifying illegal migrants post-1961, fighting the drug mafia from the Golden Triangle, and protecting forests. The central forces need to back us in these efforts.

So, what exactly do you need from the Center?

The Center knows everything. Due to the election, Central leaders were busy and could not concentrate. After the new government forms, they will definitely intervene and help the state bring a peaceful solution to Manipur. That’s my opinion.

Do you think the Prime Minister will travel to the state now?

No, traveling or not traveling is not the question.

But will he go to Manipur?

If he doesn’t come, he spoke well in Parliament and Lal Quila about Manipur. But nobody listened. The Prime Minister has spoken twice.

But that doesn’t seem to have made a difference…

No, no, no. Nobody was listening to the Prime Minister. We tried to convince the public by showing videos of what he said. From that time, slowly, we did get support in Imphal and Manipur. Otherwise, social media was flooded with negative news. That’s the situation.

How do you expect BJP’s dependence on allies this time to affect the Centre’s approach to handling Manipur violence?

I don’t think there will be any changes. The government’s actions, like identifying illegal migrants and deportation, are under constitutional provisions. (Chandrababu) Naidu-ji and Nitish Kumar-ji have shown strong support for Modi-ji. They trust him completely, which strengthens NDA with no division or differences.

Since you have taken responsibility for the verdict, will you step down as CM?

No. Some have tried to break me and the state. My job is to legally punish them. My team and I know best the issues faced by indigenous Manipuris, including Nagas. This is the time to work with more conviction.

So stepping down is out of the question?

Yes. They want to remove me because I identified illegal migrants and fought the drug mafia. If I leave, their path will be clear. Why should we give in to enemies?

BJP has lost many seats outside of Manipur too. Why do you think that has happened?

It is dirty politics. Innocent people have been misled by false promises made by the Congress. They have promised huge sums of money into people’s accounts, which is impossible. This led to a lower tally. But tell me, shall we surrender the defense budget, Ayushman Bharat budget (to offer money to people)?

Here in Manipur they made false promises of separate administration. We cannot talk about the division of India. In Manipur too, how can they talk about division of Manipur? It is impossible.

Did the 400-paar slogan work against the BJP?

A party has targets for itself. There is nothing wrong with that.