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An outlier in every sense

Th Brinda

Thounaojam Brinda’s decision to contest the upcoming Assembly polls in Manipur has put forth interesting scenarios

By Yambem Laba

Defiance has been Thounaojam Brinda’s hallmark. She had defied the state government when it disallowed her from joining the Manipur Police Service as she happened to be the daughter-in-law of RK Meghen, or Sanayaima, supremo of the proscribed United National Liberation Front of Manipur. Brinda challenged the government’s office memorandum in the Manipur High Court and the government had to beat a hasty retreat. She was invited to join the police cadre in 2013.

Brinda’s second defiant stand came in 2016 when she discovered that the Commandant of the 9 IRB Mahila Battalion had been allegedly siphoning off funds from the petrol quota. She lodged a protest to the police authorities, but it was brushed under the carpet as they were unsure about the effect it would cause should any action be initiated against the Commandant. Brinda then lodged a criminal complaint with the officer-in-charge of Imphal Police Station, citing theft of public money. But nothing came of that as well.

Brinda put in her papers to the authorities. After that, the powers that be in North Block, which had been studying Manipur and the North-east, noticed how the daughter-in-law of UNLF’s Meghen had resigned. They inferred that it was a bad move by the then Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress Party government. Soon, moves were made to have her taken back into service and the Intelligence Bureau was pressed into action. I know it for a fact as it was through myself that the IB established contact with Brinda, at which point she poured out all her misgivings.

In 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, under chief minister N Biren Singh, was sworn in. The Manipur government heeded the recommendations of the IB, and Brinda soon withdrew her resignation. Her only condition was that she be posted in a position with independent charge and thus, she was made the Additional Superintendent of Police of the Narcotics and Border Affairs wing of Manipur Police.

Back in service, Brinda went all out to smash the infamous drug cartels of Manipur. Her biggest catch came when she nabbed Lhukhosei Zou, a BJP leader and chairman of the Autonomous District Council of Chandel, which borders Myanmar. A seizure, totaling about Rs 27 crore, was made from his official residential quarters in Lamphelpat on 19 June 2018, barely two months after Brinda rejoined service.

All hell broke loose after the seizure and Zou’s arrest. In a signed affidavit submitted before Manipur High Court, Brinda stated that an emissary from the CM saw her thrice the day after with a message to release Zou. He was released on bail from the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Court, but the no-nonsense lady cop stormed out of court and posted a tirade on social media.

Later, when the NDPS found Zou “not guilty” of the charges of harbouring Rs 27 crore worth of drugs and instead held his driver guilty of the crime, Brinda returned the Chief Minister’s Medal for Gallantry. She was soon removed from her position in the NAB and sent to the police headquarters without any posting. Biren Singh even slapped a Rs 50 crore-defamation suit against her and a few social media companies.

The 42-year-old mother of four silently accepted her new position and began concentrating on her other passion — permaculture. She trained youths in the field with a view towards providing employment for them.

But the higher-ups in the political establishment were watching the developments in Manipur with an interest that went much beyond mere electoral gains. The first consolidation was done when they nominated the titular king of Manipur Leishemba Sanajaoba for the Rajya Sabha on a BJP ticket. Sanajaoba’s grandfather Maharaja Bodhachandra had signed the disputed Merger Agreement with the Indian Union in 1949, paving the way for Manipur’s inclusion into India. There was already an elected government and a Constitution in Manipur when the agreement was signed. Questioning that very move, the UNLF had come into existence in 1964.

Making Sanajaoba a Rajya Sabha member from Manipur was not just about increasing the BJP’s tally in the Upper House. It ensured that generations to come in the erstwhile royal family would never question the legitimacy of the 1949 Merger Agreement. In the meantime, Sanajaoba was living almost in penury while attending to ritualistic customs of the former kingdom. But after becoming a Rajya Sabha member, he had accommodation in New Delhi and Rs six crore at his disposal every year as funds for local area development.

It appears that eyes soon turned to Yaiskul constituency in Imphal East where Brinda resides. Calculating the immense public support that she has garnered over her almost personal war on drugs, she announced her intention to contest the forthcoming

Manipur Legislative Assembly elections. There are three ways in which the party could gain if she agrees to contest on a BJP ticket.

First, it would be a clear signal to Biren Singh that party higher-ups do not care about his personal equation with Brinda and his days in the hot seat are numbered. The second is a message to Thokchom Satyabrata Singh, the incumbent BJP MLA from Yaiskul and a minister in Biren Singh’s Cabinet, that he doesn’t have the party’s support anymore.

Last, it would also be a message to Meghen. He spent 40 years as an insurgency leader but is now back home after serving 10 years in Gauhati Jail following his arrest and alleged abduction by Indian agents in Dhaka. Meghen is on record having said that he does not approve of Brinda contesting the polls but added that it is her own decision. Joining the electoral fray under the Indian Constitution would amount to deflating Meghen’s movement to a certain extent.

That said, permission was denied when Brinda’s supporters wanted to hold a motorcycle rally on 17 October. It was done since a motorcycle rally would have hampered the movement of government vehicles and flout Covid-19 restrictions, even

though similar rallies were allowed in other constituencies. Nevertheless, hundreds of Brinda’s supporters gathered around her house and soon started a foot rally. Manipur Police was armed and ready with tear gas shells and mock bombs and they confronted Brinda who asked the officer-in-command to shoot her and her supporters.

What might have prevented them from using force was the fact that Brinda and her entourage were on the march armed, not with BJP or Congress Party flags, but with the Tri-colour. One can only wonder how so many Indian flags were present in the house of Meghen, a man who has sworn to remove the Tricolour from the soil of Manipur.

It is certainly food for thought but the Brinda juggernaut seems to be moving forward in Manipur. Perhaps for the first time, a person could be elected because of her conviction and commitment to voters instead of purchasing power.

(The writer is the Imphal-based Special Representative of The Statesman. This article was first published in The Statesman on November 8, 2021.)

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