GUWAHATI, March 21: After footballer-turned-politician N Biren Singh, it is time for yet another former sportsperson to be in the spotlight in the Manipur political arena.
Taekwondo Black Belt Fourth Dan Yumnam Khemchand was elected the new Manipur assembly speaker on Monday. With his election to the speaker’s chair, trouble-torn Manipur, also known as the sporting power-house of the country, sees sportspersons dominating the new BJP-led government. BJP’s gesture of nominating Olympic bronze medallist boxer MC Mary Kom as a Rajya Sabha MP had also been seen by Manipuris as a sign of respect for the state’s sporting talents.
Khemchand, 54, says proudly that he is a “graduate in taekwondo” from Kukkiwon at Seoul in South Korea. Kukkiwon is the world taekwondo headquarters as well as a centre of taekwondo culture, from which Khemchand graduated in 1991. “I think people trust sportspersons because of their integrity. We also have large hearts as we have experienced both victory and defeat in the ring,” Khemchand said on Monday.
The new Manipur speaker has represented India at the international level on many occasions and was even the Indian taekwondo team captain. He began his taekwondo career in 1977 and continued for the next 20 years. During the period, he worked to promote the game in different parts of the country.
In 1982, Khemchand founded the Assam Taekwondo Association and lived in Guwahati for nearly nine years. The period during which he taught taekwondo to Assamese enthusiasts coincided with the rise of the anti-foreigner sentiment in the state. The All Assam Students’ Union (Aasu) was spearheading the Assam Agitation. Many Aasu leaders later formed AGP, in which Khemchand has many associates. Several of his close AGP friends from the time later joined BJP in the state. After 1992, he returned to Manipur and started coaching. He was also the president of the Manipur Taekwondo Association. Later, he became a taekwondo trainer and even became the Indian team’s coach.
His first brush with politics came in 2012. His last election venture, when he had contested on a Trinamool Congress ticket from Singjamei, had ended in defeat by just 157 votes. After this, he joined BJP and got close to the RSS, even attending shakhas in Manipur.
This election, though, the story had changed. Khemchand defeated Congress strongman Hemochandra Singh by more than 1,800 votes. Khemchand said the people voted for change in this election as they were fed up with the 15-year Congress rule, “infamous for misgovernance and corruption”.