For once, the people of Manipur have rallied behind the 62-year-old chief minister - so much so that Singh has turned into a real hero for his belligerent posturing of not allowing Muivah, leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, to visit his birthplace in Manipur's Ukhrul district.
The decision led to violent protests - three Naga supporters killed in firing by Manipur Police May 6 and - an acute food crisis due to an indefinite economic blockade by Muivah supporters, with trucks carrying essentials and medicines refused entry into Manipur passing through Nagaland via National Highway 39.
The chief minister remained dogged. He was summoned to New Delhi in the first week of May and asked to let Muivah visit his birthplace. A group of ministers led by P. Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony met him and tried convincing him to let Muivah visit the state, but the plea was turned down flatly by Singh.
"Surely the image of Ibobi Singh has gone up manifold and he has become the darling of the people for the simple reason that he defied the diktat of the central government over Muivah's visit to Manipur," Babloo Loitongbam, a noted rights leader, told reporters.
Until recently, the streets of Manipur frequently would witness the chief minister being burnt in effigy and demonstrations against the Congress-ruled government on issues ranging from rights violations to salaries not being at par with the central pay scale, besides a myriad local problems.
"The people of Manipur are with the government and despite the food, medicine and fuel crisis, there is no complaint. People are ready to go to work in bicycles and manage the situation," said N. Biren Singh, the state government spokesperson and state irrigation minister.
Surely, the chief minister has managed to salvage his sagging image.
"Whether or not this issue would help Singh politically in the long run is another matter, but for now he is saddled firmly," said T. Singh, a community leader.
Imphal: From being a much disliked man to becoming the darling of Manipur, life for Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh has come full circle, thanks to his government's firm move to ban the entry of Naga separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah.
First Published: Thursday, May 20, 2010, 15:57