Manipur Election 2017: Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is the quintessential survivor

Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is a canny political operator whose reign has been marked by insurgency and turmoil. Running for his fourth consecutive term, Singh has been ruling the state since 2002, a feat made especially impressive considering that Manipur chief ministers usually do not serve out their full terms. Ibobi has led the Congress to impressive victories in the state, especially in 2012, when the Grand Old Party won a record 42 out of 60 seats even as they lost ground elsewhere.

 Manipur Election 2017: Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is the quintessential survivor

File image of Ibobi Singh. Facebook

Ibobi was born on 19 June, 1948 into a Hindu Metei familly to Okram Angoubi and Lukamani Devi at Athokpam, Thoubal district. He had six brothers and three sisters.

As the oldest child, he was expected to help his father, a farmer, which he did while also excelling at school. Ibobi received his Bachelor in Arts from DM College, Imphal and also attended Harvard University in the United States.

His first foray into politics took place in 1984 as an independent candidate from the Khangabok Assembly constituency after which he joined the Congress. In 1990, he won re-election from Khangabok on a Congress ticket and took up a position as the minister in-charge of municipal administration, housing and urban development in the RK Dorendo government. He has been a Congress stalwart ever since.

A bloody reign

Ibobi's 15-year rule has been the bloodiest in its history so far when it comes to "administrative liquation", a term coined by the Supreme Court. According to statistics compiled by NGO Human Rights Alert, a spike in extrajudicial killings was immediately noticed soon after Ibobi took over as chief minister in 2002.

Babloo Loitongbam, director of the Human Rights Alert, told Firstpost  earlier, that almost 1,200 people have been killed during Ibobi's three terms. Critics say the biggest victim of Ibobi's rule in the state have been human rights.

The biggest challenge in Ibobi's first term as chief minister was dealing with the public fallout over the rape and murder of Manorama Devi in 2004, allegedly by troops of 17 Assam Rifles. That incident turned the spotlight onto the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (Afspa), 1958 and the violation of human rights by the army in Manipur.

Perhaps the key to Ibobi's longevity is his uncanny sense of timing. Responding to pressure from civil rights groups, in August 2004, his government removed Afspa from Imphal's municipal areas, although the controversial law remained (and still remains) firmly entrenched in Manipur. He also managed to get the Assam Rifles personnel removed from the historic Kangla fort. The chief minister also earned brownie points by preventing NSCN (IM) leader, Thuingaleng Muivah, from entering the state.

One would imagine that Manipur's constant state of turmoil and complaints about governance and lack of infrastructure would leave Ibobi vulnerable to political rivals but that hasn't happened. Ibobi has survived multiple assassination attempts — in 2003 militants ambushed his convoy in Thoubal district, killing three of his security personnel and in 2006 his convoy was once again ambushed by armed militants in the same district, this time while he was travelling to attend a ruling Congress party meeting. Later that year, a grenade was tossed at his home. In 2016, suspected NSCN(IM) militants fired upon his chopper, injuring a soldier. But Ibobi, if nothing else, is a survivor. The smart money seems to be on him continuing his winning ways in Manipur.

His better half

Ibobi's wife, L Landhoni Devi, is the first woman MLA from Thoubal and has won two consecutive elections from its Khangabok constituency in 2007 and 2012. In fact, in 2007, she won more votes than her husband in the Assembly elections.

But sadly, Devi is the exception and not the rule. Despite women voters in Manipur outnumbering men, Devi is the only woman in the 60-member house. According to one state official, in 2007 Devi was the only woman in Manipur who ran for office and won. The other five women lost to their male counterparts. However, this time, Devi will not be seeking re-election. She told reporters she would be stepping down so that Manipur received more youth power. However, this is politics and in that tale lies a twist.

The son also rises

Into her place steps son Okram Surajkumar, who will be making his debut into politics. Surajkumar has an economics degree from London's Kingston University, is a polo player and a state-level badminton champion, but where politics is concerned, he is a novice. The 29-year-old has claimed he had no political ambitions until recently, and said he felt compelled to run for office after witnessing the difficulties faced by the underprivileged in his district.

Surajkumar, the youngest candidate in the state's history to fight assembly elections, has stated that he would focus on digitisation for the northeast state if elected. All eyes in the state are on the young man, waiting to see if he can follow in his parents' footsteps. After all, this is how dynasties are built.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 11:12:32 IST