PORTRAIT

Irom Sharmila: On the Fast Lane

Irom Sharmila
Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Irom Sharmila changes track to launch a political party for Manipur’s demilitarisation

THAT FIRST THING that goes once a person enters politics is the moral sheen, and while we must hope that this fate does not befall Irom Sharmila, history rules that it is almost inevitable. Consider Arvind Kejriwal, who no one calls corrupt even now, but he is not really the role model a million mothers want for their sons either, just of a constituency that he cultivates to remain in power.

Politics is dirty business, but unfortunately also the only one there is for substantial change. Irom Sharmila, who on 18 October floated her political party Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance or PRJA, could be poised for great things in Manipur, an embattled state for too long. She has recognition, an essential necessity for public life. She has a cause which resonates with the entire state, the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). She also has a flawless moral sheen from having fasted for 16 long force-fed years.

Calling off the fast abruptly in August this year was a difficult decision that admitted failure. The Indian state, weak willed in many other areas, has been utterly intransigent and ruthless over its unity and integrity. It would take more than an extended fast to change its character. That she held on for so long is both admirable and foolish. It has come at tremendous physical and emotional cost. The most courageous thing that she did, in retrospect, was to come to terms with the futility of her fast. Calling it off antagonised supporters but it was a small cost to pay for taking back ownership of her own body.

Irom Sharmila said she would contest two seats in next year’s Assembly polls and one of them is in the present Chief Minister’s constituency. It shows ambition and a victory there would immediately stamp her on the political landscape

What can we expect from Irom Sharmila the politician? As of now, predictably, there are only slogans. While launching the party, she said that it would be against militarisation and violence in the state. How is usually the more important question and that is yet to be spelt out. More importantly, she said that she would contest two seats in next year’s Assembly polls and one of them is in the present Chief Minister’s constituency. It shows ambition and a victory there would immediately stamp her on the political landscape. Kejriwal used the same tactic against Sheila Dikshit.

Ultimately, her legacy would depend on the organisation she creates. In 2014, AAP had invited her to stand for the Lok Sabha election on its ticket, tempting her by saying that she would be heard in Parliament. She rejected the offer and told the media then that she didn’t think only a politician’s voice would be heard and not a citizen’s. The Hindu reported her citing the example of Mahatma Gandhi who ‘launched the non-violent campaign to drive out the British without joining politics.’ She was mistaken then, because Gandhi was a lifelong politician. Belatedly, she now also understands the reality of being heard in India.