Manipur chief minister and BJP leader N. Biren Singh “clarified” on Friday afternoon that he will not be resigning “at this crucial juncture”, capping a six-hour spectacle marked by a gathering of his supporters outside his bungalow in Imphal to prevent him from stepping down.
The BJP said the chief minister was ready with his resignation letter, which was apparently torn to pieces to convince the supporters that the chief minister would stay.
But multiple sources in Manipur suggested this was a stage-managed operation.
Some of the sources said the preparations had begun on Thursday night after the chief minister faced strong protests from a section of Meitei women — called Meira Paibi (women torchbearers) — over the deaths of youths belonging to the community.
“Singh has a substantial support base in Imphal and he used his clout to mobilise over 2,500 people, who staged a drama and prevented him from tendering his resignation.... It was all scripted as Singh is desperate to save his chair,” said a source in Imphal.
Singh had scheduled a meeting with governor Anusuiya Uikey, prompting feverish speculation of an imminent exit. But blockades put up by women and youths belonging to the Meitei community on the way to the Governor House in Imphal compelled Singh to drop his plan and return to the chief minister’s residence.
Around 4pm, Singh tweeted: “At this crucial juncture, I wish to clarify that I will not be resigning from the post of Chief Minister.”
“The chief minister was ready with his resignation letter but his supporters, mostly women and youths, blocked the road to the Raj Bhavan and raised slogans against his quitting at this juncture. Those staging the dharna were from within and outside the party. The chief minister and cabinet ministers came out of the bungalow to meet them,” state BJP spokesperson Elangbam Johnson told The Telegraph.
“Seeing the support and the confidence of the crowd in him, the CM dropped the idea of quitting. Cabinet minister L. Susindro Meitei then took the CM’s two-line resignation letter and tore it in front of the women supporters as a reassurance. The crowd dispersed thereafter. The public display of support shows so many people are behind the CM in these challenging times,” Johnson said, adding that two appointments had been sought with the governor — at 1pm and 3pm — to submit Singh’s resignation.
Manipur has been on the boil since May 3 because of clashes between the Meiteis (mostly Hindu) and the Kukis (tribal people, many of whom are Christian) that have already killed at least 133 people belonging to both communities.
“Last night, two Meitei youths died in a clash and two suffered injuries when an armed group of Meitei youths (called Arambai Tenggol) attacked Haraothel village in Kangpokpi district on the foothills.... When their bodies were brought to Imphal, the Meira Paibis protested and demanded answers from the chief minister. It was clear that a section of the Meira Paibis are running out of patience as they are losing their sons in a battle that they have been fighting under Singh,” said a senior officer in a paramilitary force.
In another incident on June 13, nine Meitei youths died in Khamenlok (a Kuki village) in the same district when they faced a retaliatory attack from village guards while celebrating their triumph after burning down homes. There are reports that more than 200 Kuki villages have been burnt since May 3.
The rising death toll among the Meiteis, who consider themselves the majority in the state, has become a big challenge for Singh at a time eight BJP MLAs, belonging to the Meitei community, submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that the chief minister has lost public support.
“The Meira Paibis are the guardians of civil society.... The chief minister had to do something after facing the wrath of a section of them over the death toll in the Meitei community as he is also the home minister,” said an academic based in Imphal, adding that the “resignation drama” should be viewed in this context.
The protest from a section of Meira Paibis, the academic said, over the death of youths belonging to the Meitei community explains the pitfalls of polarisation using the communal card.
“The BJP-led government mobilised the Meitei youths, running a campaign against the Kukis and convincing the mothers about the Meitei cause.... Now, some of these mothers are upset that they are losing their sons and brothers in this battle, and they are demanding answers. This will make things more difficult for the chief minister,” the academic added.
Singh, serving as the chief minister of the state since 2017, is seen as the champion of Meitei sub-nationalism, which is being seen as one of the key reasons behind the Meitei-Kuki conflict.
A section of the bureaucracy in Manipur thinks that Singh, who met Union home minister Amit Shah on June 25, has been under pressure from the Centre to bring an end to the strife. Shah apparently told Singh that he must ensure an end to the violence in the valley while he would ensure peace in the tribal-dominated hills. The chief minister, multiple sources said, has failed to bring the situation under control in the valley despite promising Shah that he would do so.
Against this backdrop, names of some moderate Meitei leaders — like junior external affairs minister Rajkumar Ranjan Singh who has been critical of the Singh-led state government — as possible successor to the incumbent have also begun doing the rounds in Imphal.
“By staging this drama, the chief minister also tried to send a message to the central leadership that he still has the support of the people,” said a source.
A source in Imphal, who was near the chief minister’s residence on Friday, said that those opposing Singh’s resignation had assembled with placards and festoons since early morning.
“How did they know that the chief minister was about to resign?” asked the source, before adding that the protesters were organised through a late-night operation from areas like Heingan, Wangkhei, Singjamei, Kakwa and Khurai in the capital city where Singh has considerable clout.
A significant presence of the Arambai Tenggol — armed Meitei youths believed to be behind many attacks on Kuki-dominated villages — among the protesters in black T-shirts, with red horses inscribed on the back, raised several questions in Imphal.
“It is true that Meitei youths have also lost lives in the conflict over the last few days.... But this Arambai Tenggol group had made the first assault on May 3 and continued attacking the Kuki community. This group had been raised with the blessings of the chief minister. The group was allowed to loot arms from the state armouries,” said a paramilitary force officer.
The officer added that “the presence of the Arambai Tenggol group near the chief minister’s residence and their attempts to prevent him from resigning” speak for themselves.
According to him, some Meitei-linked terrorist organisations like the KYKL, PLA and the UNLF, banned under provisions of the UAPA, are now supporting the Arambai Tenggol as it enjoys the patronage of the ruling party.