A colorful innings in politics

Former Manipur Chief Minister and present Rajya Sabha MP Rishang Keishing talks about his personal life to Witoubou, Editor of Newmai News Network.

Witoubou: What has been the driving force behind your colourful innings in politics?

Rishang: The main driving force behind my activities is the Holy Scripture from the Bible. Jesus Christ told his followers that people should love one another as He has loved us. We have to serve our fellow beings with love because serving others is serving God.

Witoubou: But politics is a game of betrayal and in trying to grab power, you yourself had taken on your opponents and betrayed your fellow politicians while trying to topple many past Governments. How can you say of love for fellow beings now? You sound contradictory.

Rishang: Yes, toppling game is very a much part of politics. I did it because I felt that my programme were better than my opponents. I wanted to save  the people. I wanted to rescue the people from drowning in the deep sea. So I did not want to leave my people to incapable hands. So keeping this in mind, I tried to grab power. I’m not power hungry but I want to serve my people with my good and useful programmes.

Witoubou: What has been your greatest achievement as a public leader?

Rishang: In spite of my many enemies, the poor people from the rural area have great love and affection for me. And I feel that this is my greatest treasure and achievement. People want to listen and hear whatever I say. Whatever I say has touched a person’s heart. So this is another achievement of mine. I can at least win the confidence and regards of people whenever I interact with them. I consider this is a sort of consolation for me.

Witoubou: Who has inspired you the most?

Rishang: I happened to join politics on the eve of India’s achievement of Independence. In 1945, I was in Calcutta. That was the time when many leaders including Jaya Prakash Narayan were in jail. And these leaders were Socialists and they were for the poor and the have nots. These leaders inspired me most. That was the reason I got attracted to the Socialist Party at that time.

Witoubou: You were also at one time associated with Jawaharlal Nehru. Don’t you rate him?

Rishang: Yes, after coming to Parliament, I came in contact with Nehru, Maulana Azad, and other prominent leaders. When I looked at them, all of them were transparent and there was a keen desire from core of their hearts to sacrifice for the country. These leaders never had thought for themselves and their vested interest. Nobody talked of corruption or entertained thoughts of corruption.

Fortunately, this had a profound effect on me and this has remained forever in my thought and mentality. This remains as a driving force in my activities in public life.

Witoubou: Tell me your transit point from Socialist Party to the Congress Party (INC).

Rishang: When I went to Jawaharlal Nehru and told him that I wanted to identify my nationalism with the Congress Party because at that time A.Z Phizo’s movement was there, Nehru held my hand and said, ‘come and join’. Nehru then said to his colleagues, ‘Let him remain as an associate member of Congress Party’. In 1980, Indira Gandhi asked me to lead the Manipur Government. Then I asked her how I could become the Chief Minister of Manipur as I belong to a small minority community. Then Indira Gandhi said, ‘No, in democracy to win the confidence of the people is important and that is the only way’. So I became the leader.

Witoubou: Did you at any time tell your long association with Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to Sonia Gandhi?

Rishang: Yes, I have told her about my close association with Nehru and Indira Gandhi a few days back in New Delhi. I told her how I joined the Congress Party and how the political atmosphere was at that time.

Witoubou: So these made you to remain loyal to the Congress Party but your opinions had also been ignored by your colleagues, isn’t it?

Rishang: Well, whatever may be the case; I will never allow anybody to destroy the Congress Party. The Congress led Government here can do whatever they like to do.

Even if they don’t want to listen to me or accept my opinions, I would not mind. But

I will not allow anyone to break the Congress party. I remained a Congressman alone twice. One was during Yangmasho Shaiza’s time and the other was during Radhabinod’s time. I was all alone – a lone MLA and a lone Congress man in the Assembly.

Witoubou: Well, who is your political mentor?

Rishang: I would consider Jaya Prakash Narayan and Pandit Nehru. They would remain as my mentors.

Witoubou: Had not you been in politics, what field of life you might have trodden?

Rishang: I find it hard to say. But I’m sure I would be serving people in one way or the other.

Witoubou: But you were a humble school teacher?

Rishang: When I had just passed Matriculation, one Dr Cook asked me to finish my graduation. He also told me that he would sent me to America to do my graduation and come back to serve as school teacher at Jorhat in Assam. But I did not follow Dr. Cook’s request. After my graduation I went to Ukhrul to become the first graduate headmaster in Ukhrul area in a Junior School in 1949. Then in 1952 I fought the elections for the Lok Sabha seat. That was how I joined politics.

Witoubou: Other than yourself, which Chief Minister of Manipur of past and present you think as an ideal one?

Rishang: Well, I don’t find anybody as ideal Chief Minister. This doesn’t mean that I was the best Chief Minister. No Chief Minister of Manipur, past and present have lived up to the people’s expectation. Instead, all of them have built houses in New Delhi, Calcutta etc.

Witoubou: Can you single out anyone from the past and present MLAs who can be considered as an ideal and exemplary figure?

Rishang: Politicians with high degree and qualifications do not make good politicians. Today, we have many MLAs who hold Ph.D degrees, University degree etc but this long tail of qualifications is not going to help them. We hardly find any good MLA in Manipur. More than qualifications or degrees, the skill to work, the will to sacrifice, honesty, and sincerity are more important to make a good politician because politics in its true sense is service to the people. One has to consider oneself as the father or a parent of all the people. Spirit of sacrifice is very important. I don’t accept high degrees and university degrees to be the yardstick to grade a politician. You need special skills to become a leader.

Witoubou: Kindly define politics in your own version.

Rishang: Politics is a game of sacrifice. Politics is service to the whole people. There should not be any narrow outlook when you are in politics. Politics becomes dangerous when you think of your own family, your own clan, your own community. So we should avoid thinking in narrow terms.

Witoubou: Do you feel that there has been any threat to your life from some angles?

Rishang: Yes, I have many enemies. If anybody comes face to face to confront me, then I will try to convince him. But if anybody is hiding in the jungle to shoot me then, I pray to take care of me.

Witoubou: If there is an offer for Governorship of any State, will you accept the assignment?

Rishang: No, no no. I will never accept to become a Governor even if I’m offered the post. You know, Governors don’t have any work. It is only an ornamental job. The

Governor’s main task is to go and inaugurate this and that thing. Anything the Governor says has no value. Whereas even if I don’t become a Minister or Chief Minister people will listen to me so long as I’m doing social work.

Witoubou: Have you at any time harboured the thought to become the President of India?

Rishang: No, I have never harboured such things.

Witoubou: Suggest a panacea to check the ethics of today’s politics.

Rishang: Today, you speak something and do something else. So speaking and working should go hand in hand. Then only things will improve. Honestly and sincerity should come to the fore in every politics.

Witoubou: But in politics, it is said that an honest and a humble man is not a good politician. To be in politics one has to be shrewd and cunning.

Rishang: That is true in the case of Manipur.

Witoubou: Well, tell me your daily routine.

Rishang: I normally get up at 5 am. Sometime I want to go for a morning walk around my compound but the visitors are already full in my house. I sleep at 11 pm everyday. I sleep only for six hours.

Witoubou: Any sort of meditation?

Rishang: I regularly read the holy Bible before I go to sleep and in the morning. That is my meditation.

Witoubou: You are now 84 years old but you still have the look of a 50 year young man, so your food habit must be the factor.

Rishang: I’m a small-eater. I eat very little. If there is meat curry, I just take one small piece of it with little rice. I’m a non-vegetarian, but I mostly eat vegetables. But I eat enough fruits. I eat lots of bananas. I have liked bananas from my childhood. Fruit is a major part of my food. Daily I must eat not less than five bananas. Morning and evening I eat bananas. I am fond of it. I think these bananas keep me healthy.

Witoubou: Any drinks or that sort…?

Rishang: I don’t smoke or drink. I never take wine. I don’t chew tobacco or pans. I avoid all these things.

Witoubou: The first graduate headmaster at a young age with very good looks. So kindly throw some lights about your romantic life.

Rishang: I’m morally sound. I am not after women. I am very conscious with keeping my character clean. I keep a good distance from women in that way. I felt conscious to stand in front of a cinema hall even in my early days because people would say ‘Look he is standing in front of a cinema hall’. So I don’t want such name. I controlled myself from indulging such thing.