Manipur’s Nongthombam Biren Singh is the country’s first sportsperson to become a Chief Minister of a state. The former national footballer, who is the 12th Chief Minister of Manipur, confessed that he considered the 2017 elections to be the ‘final football match’ of his political career, which took off in 2002.
For Biren, it was a strategy that paid off. From being at the helm of affairs as a Congress Minister for seven consecutive years and subsequently getting sidelined by his mentor, Okram Ibobi Singh, Biren shifted sides and joined the BJP in October 2016.
From Football to Politics
It was in 1979 that the BSF recognised Biren’s footballing talent as a defender and got him to play for their team. Eventually Biren’s BSF team went on to win the prestigious Durand Cup in 1981, defeating the football giant, Mohun Bagan. Biren quit the BSF team in 1982 and dabbled in Journalism, where he edited a vernacular.
In 2002, Biren contested election and won from the Heingang assembly seat as a candidate of a regional political party, Democratic Revolutionary People’s Party (DRPP).
Later, the DRPP merged with the Congress and he became the then Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s most trusted aide. Eventually, he walked out of Congress in 2016, accusing the party of playing divisive politics in the multi-ethnic state and its leader of employing a dictatorial style.
The Great Expectations of Manipur
Biren Singh has become BJP’s first Chief Minister of Manipur and he achieved it by pulling the rug out from under his political mentor – who had distinguished himself as the longest serving Chief Minister, with three terms from 2002 to 2017.
For Manipur’s sporting fraternity, Singh’s chief ministership symbolises a great expectation in taking the state’s sports movement to new heights.
International Wushu coach, M Biramani Singh, who has produced many national and international Indian talents, says he has been waiting for a moment like this to clean the rot plaguing sports in the state.
Being a sportsperson, our new Chief Minister has first-hand information of what’s going on, including the politics of it all. If you ask me, the first thing he should tackle is to revamp the sports policy of the state and make it more inclusive, particularly of the disciplines most suited for our players. Another area in desperate need of overhauling is the trend of political appointments happening in sports. Coaches and instructors should only be trained hands.
Building World-Class Sports Infrastructure
At his first ever media breifing as the CM, Biren Singh responded to queries about the National Sports University which he proposed and is pending approval.
He said he plans to urge the Union Sports University to allow the premier university to start functioning out of the existing Khuman Lampak Multi Sports Complex in Imphal, instead of waiting for a permanent university campus to get ready.
His vision vis-à-vis the sports university will resonate well with the sporting community.
Football promoter and entrepreneur, Dr Thangjam Dhabali, who heads the NEROCA Football Club Pvt Ltd that manages Manipur’s first professional football club, expects the new CM to address the infrastructural gaps in Manipur.
Even though Manipur is a state to be reckoned with in the Indian football scenario, having accounted for more than 100 footballers playing in the likes of Indian Super league, I-League first division, it’s a pity we don’t even have a national-level football ground. We hope all this will change. Being a person who is well aware of the concerns of football in Manipur, the CM is expected to take up concrete measures to catapult the football movement to greater heights.
Even though N Biren Singh taking over as the chief minister is generally seen as a golden opportunity for sports in Manipur, scepticism is inescapable.
Most are left wondering whether Biren Singh will live up to their expectations and prove false the image that when one enters politics, they forget the issues that once plagued them.
(The writer is an Imphal based media person and documentary filmmaker)