Irom Sharmila may be free for now but what happens next is not yet clear. Her family and activists in Manipur believe it is a matter of time before Sharmila is rearrested. Most believe the government perceives her as too much of a threat to allow her unrestricted movement and exposure to people.
“She will stay here a couple of days only,” Save Sharmila Campaign convener S Momon Laima said at the group’s office. “We believe the police will come and get her after that.”
The question is what fresh charges the government will come up with. With a sessions court Wednesday throwing Section 309 out of the window, one recourse for the government may be to seek a high court stay. The government has convened a meeting to discuss plans, say insiders.
Why is she seen as a threat? In this small state, her fight for over a decade against what is perceived as a draconian law has made her more than just an icon. Sharmila fasting in custody was motivation enough for activists; now, the government fears, masses of Manipuris might flock to her.
Freedom to travel will allow her to garner support across communities. She will also be able to travel outside the state and reach more people. But her stature comes with its problems. In an interview once to The Indian Express, she had said she wanted to be seen as “simply a human being and not a god’’.
National coverage of her romance with Goan-born British citizen Desmond Coutinho, and his attempts to meet her, had led to violent protests in Manipur. An activist admits that to the average Manipuri, she is not just a political but a spiritual leader. Marrying Coutinho is a desire Sharmila has often expressed, but that is unlikely to go down well with the people of the state. Will Sharmila’s personal life then bring to an end her campaign?
With the state government fearful of Sharmila’s effect on Manipur, will it finally woo her? Or will the BJP, which has been making overtures since it came to power, step in? Questions on her health too persist. Now that she is out of hospital, how will a still-fasting Sharmila survive? Will the government take care of her medical care once she is no longer under house arrest?