The three-month-long Manipur blockade was scheduled to end this week but the United Naga Council, which has been enforcing it, refused. With this tension, Manipur goes to elections in March. Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh speaks to Anoo Bhuyan in Imphal about his fight against anti-incumbency after 15 years of his rule and the efforts of the BJP to win the state.
You have been the Chief Minister for three consecutive terms, 15 years. Why are you contesting for a fourth time?
There are lots of projects to complete. But whether or not I am the next Chief Minister, our honourable MLAs will decide.
In these 15 years, what would you say were the biggest achievements of your government?
In the health sector, in infant mortality rate, we have been doing very well. We got a cash award from the central government for the last three consecutive years because of this. We invest not less than four per cent of our state GDP in the health sector, whereas at the national level it is less than two per cent. We have one doctor for every 750 people, which is also higher than the national average. In the power sector, our model should be a role model for every other state.
What are the areas in which you have not made progress in 15 years?
If we come to power again, we have decided the main problem is unemployment. The registered number of the educated-unemployed has gone up. So we would like to create jobs. The next priority area is to provide safe drinking water to every household by 2020 or 2022.
What would the job creation look like? We met a young man yesterday who said he has not been able to get work under MNREGA. Would you create more work in terms of industries or through government schemes?
Work will be created through MNREGA also, and in the agriculture sector, animal husbandry and horticulture. There are many sectors where we can do public-private partnership as well.
What is going to be the impact of this three-month-long economic blockade on the chances of the Congress? Are people going to be unhappy that the state government has not done enough to solve this?
This will not have an impact. The people of Manipur know who is creating problems.
Opposition parties say that the Congress created seven new districts recently, with an intention to consolidate votes in its favour. The demand for these districts is many decades old and the Congress had fifteen years to do it.
Why did you do this only a few months ago, with elections coming up? Who is going to benefit?
Strategically, if it was done earlier, it might have created more problems. There are a lot of things we cannot disclose openly now. There are a lot of agendas. It will go in favour of our government, our party.
Do the ongoing talks between the Government of India and NSCN(IM) make the state government anxious? Does the demand for more territorial autonomy make the government uncomfortable?
We’re eagerly waiting for this problem to stop permanently. We are not involved with the framework agreement so we can’t give our comment.
The BJP is strong in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. How much of a threat is the BJP to the Congress here?
Manipur is different and cannot be compared. We have always worked sincerely in the interest of the people of Manipur. So people will vote for us.
As far as sincerity is concerned, the BJP is also promising to “work in the interest of the people.” So why shouldn’t people pick the BJP?
From the internet, people know how the BJP does not keep its commitments. For example, they made many promises before the Bihar assembly elections. But Biharis asked, “Hum log buddhu hai kya?” What has BJP done in the last two-and-a-half years?
By that count, several people say the Congress has not kept its promises either. In fact the BJP just released a booklet where they have researched the unkept promises of your government. So why should they vote you?
Whatever we have done so far, people are satisfied. You’ll know only after the election.