The entire country watched with admiration when the Iron Lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila, ended her 16-year-long hunger strike in August, 2016. Sharmila, who became the face of anti-AFSPA agitation and struggle of Manipuri people against the ‘draconian’ law, however, surprised many when she announced the launch of a new political party in the state and her decision to contest the elections.
Five months after this announcement, the assembly election results on March 11 must have come as a shocker for her. Not only did her party, People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), fail to make any impact, Sharmila, who fought from two different seats including CM Okram Ibobi’s constituency Thoubal, managed to bag only 90 votes.
“People from outside look at things very differently, while here in Manipur, people have a completely different outlook. It is not that they do not support her call and appreciate her struggle but she was not able to garner enough support in terms of electoral politics,” said Valleyrose Hungyo, editor of The Aja Daily in Manipur.
Many also believe that Sharmila’s decision to break her fast and entering politics was taken in haste and that she could have taken more time to lay a ground for herself and galvanise the young population in the state to support her new endeavor. Speaking with indianexpress.com, Ch Lady Diana, an author who is currently working on a book about AFSPA and struggle of woman in Manipur, said: ” She took the entire responsibility of fighting the election on her shoulders due to which she did not seek out young volunteers or party staff to participate in the campaign process.”
“The role of a politician needs a certain level of contingency to the values and ideals of her society. This contingency has been doubted of late. Moreover, an AFSPA-centric approach to fight the election fell short to win the electoral conviction,” she added.
Earlier, in an interview with Indian Express, Sharmila had said that that ‘people would have voted for her but their right to vote has been occupied by money’. Most of the people shared the same sentiment asserting that she could not win because she could not buy the voters.
“It is no longer a secret that elections in Manipur can be won by money power and this is one of the reasons why a person like Irom Sharmila stands no chance against her rivals. Her approach was simplistic while that of Okram Ibobi was complicated and more effective as per the status quo of Manipur politics,” said 26-year-old Lun, a student in Delhi.
While there are a number of reasons which led to her defeat, including the lack of trust shown by her own people in her political capabilities, there are still many who stand firm in her support. “It is a matter of pride that she got 90 votes because at least there are 90 honest and righteous who understood her cause. It won’t be wrong to say that Irom Sharmila is a new born baby in political arena of Manipur,” said Lun.