With the latest election results in Manipur, the public mandate brought the state again to limelight. During the election process Manipur received very little attention but the focus started shifting after news came out that Irom Sharmila, better known as Iron lady of Manipur who contested against its Chief Minister Ibobi Singh received only 90 votes.
Everyone felt shocked and started their analysis why and how it happened. Sharmila herself, as per media reports seems dejected with such a low mandate and announced to quit politics.
I can see so many articles, social media posts in support of Irom and some ridiculing her. Even people started writing that ‘it means repeal of AFSPA is not an issue for people in Manipur’ and that ‘it is constructed and funded and aimed to defame armed forces’. On the other hand, a few people calling ‘Democracy – a failed process’ and also that ‘People themselves want to choose criminals and corrupts’.
To my view, both sides are wrong, instead they are just expressing their own opinions about Human Rights and Democracy. Defeat of Sharmila and PRJA is a fact and it should be accepted as simply as of any other defeat.
Comparing peoples mandate as mandate for repeal AFSPA is not true because election is not a referendum on AFSPA. Election is a process to choose a ‘leader’ who can provide a better living to society in that particular constituency. It is also attached with the ‘development’ vision of state and region if the leader comes to power, and that is why elections and peoples’ mandate associate itself with political parties who are fighting not only to elect individual leader but to elect so many such leaders who can form or at least affect policy of government. In that sense, PRJA could not do much even if it could win.
AFSPA, as an issue is relevant and an issue for people, especially for those who suffered or who are more vulnerable to suffer. As an issue of Human rights, it does not matter whether AFSPA affects every Manipuri or not because the very nature of this Act is undemocratic, draconian and has traces of human rights violations for which evidences and compensations have been given in/by courts and commissions. Even there are testimonies, wireless message transcripts and interviews of administrative officers including police officers who spelt about how AFSPA. AFSPA remains an issue regardless of support from individual activists, politicians or group of people.
Reasons of less than 100 votes may be so many and not a single. As a crusader against AFSPA, Sharmila’s struggle highly successful through highlighting the issue across and brought ‘more vigilant’ focus of media, government and activists upon actions of armed forces to force them to act within the ambit of powers and not to violate it. It does not mean that forces are under full control, but it definitely mean that they are well informed that any violation may get highlighted and may damage their image and may result departmental or state inquiry. Sharmila’s struggle has great role in bringing support of mainland organizations in terms of raising voice for Manipur as they started understanding the problems of AFSPA. Prior to her hunger struggle, very few persons knew about it. When we, in Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign started advocating for repeal AFSPA and demanded government to adopt humanitarian approach towards Sharmila, there were so many people who started reading and understanding AFSPA.
In my many meetings with Sharmila, I found her so positive that once when she was in the 16th year of her struggle, I asked her if she ever get angry upon democracy that the government never listened to her ? She responded ‘I have faith in democracy and I believe that one day government will listen’. Though her appeal was not listened by government, but despite, she never shouted, abused or lost faith upon non violence and democracy. This is what democracy means for her. Those who are presently shouting as ‘democracy failed’ and showing themselves as her sympathizer, must know that their version of democracy was already failed when nothing was done on Sharmila’s hunger struggle; but the democracy for which Sharmila fought and desire, still exists here we all have faith upon it.
Democracy has its own beauty and we must appreciate it. Not electing an activist does not mean that democracy has failure, instead it reflects that political leadership may demand many more things. In the same line, a politician or a public servant may not be a renowned activist as being in activism may need many things other than the expertise in politics. We have seen defeat of many senior bureaucrats and even of retired Army Chief J J Singh in the recently held Punjab election and again it does not mean that people do not love army, instead it only means that political aspirations in a democracy like India requires many more strategies than your personal institution-ship.
Though I am not a political analyst, but as a common person’s perspective, I see this defeat as obvious one for above said reasons and for many other reasons too about which I will write another article. Fighting an election is actually an art, a math, a sociology and even a philosophy that can be learnt better through ground experiences than in books of politics. Strategists of PRJA may need to think more about how they can get support of local people in their struggle. On the other hand, Sharmila never need to become sad with this result. Her role as a human rights activist is completely different than her role as political leader and it is upon people how they take both roles as per their opinion. She also needs to introspect where she need to improve including her personal and political issues and associations. Leaving or remaining in politics may be her own decision and she may judge it better (in the similar way of her individual decision of joining politics), but to stand strong and unbreakable is what is needed for anyone who is in public life and working for people.
Ravi Nitesh is former Convener- Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (now dissolved), Founder-Mission Bhartiyam, Executive Member- South Asian Fraternity. Twitter: /ravinitesh