Irom Sharmila Is Not for Sale

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Kaushik Deka

In Oc­to­ber, a cou­ple of months af­ter she ended her 16-year­long fast, Irom Sharmila, the iron lady of Ma­nipur, formed a po­lit­i­cal party—the Peo­ple’s Resur­gence and Jus­tice Al­liance (PRJA). Ma­nipur goes to the polls in two phases, on March 4 and 8; Sharmila is con­test­ing from Thoubal, seat of the chief min­is­ter, Okram Ibobi Singh. And though she stands lit­tle chance of win­ning, sparks have al­ready be­gun to fly.

Ac­cord­ing to the PRJA’s expenses re­port, the party spent about Rs 1.63 lakh from Jan­uary 1 to 10, more than three times the Rs 43,218 it spent through De­cem­ber. Though ris­ing, the expenses are petty for a po­lit­i­cal party—es­pe­cially in the light of Sharmila’s re­cent claims that the BJP of­fered her Rs 36 crore to con­test the elec­tions. That is the fig­ure, she says, the party cal­cu­lated it would take to beat Ibobi Singh, a Congress stal­wart and Ma­nipur’s chief min­is­ter for close to 15 years. She says she turned down the of­fer, in­tend­ing to fight her cam­paign on re­sources her party can raise for it­self—at present, slightly more than Rs 3 lakh.

The BJP has dis­missed Sharmila’s al­le­ga­tions. “I have great re­spect for her com­mit­ment to the wel­fare of her state, but such base­less al­le­ga­tions don’t go with what she stands

for”, says As­sam fi­nance min­is­ter Hi­manta Biswa Sarma, who is also the con­venor of the North-East Demo­cratic Al­liance, a po­lit­i­cal coali­tion of the BJP and var­i­ous re­gional parties. BJP gen­eral sec­re­tary Ram Mad­hav y ac­cused her of ly­ing, and the party has threat­ened to take le­gal ac­tion if Sharmila fails to sub­stan­ti­ate her story. What­ever the truth, Sharmila’s po­lit­i­cal de­but is likely to be an up­hill strug­gle. Ibobi Singh re­tains im­mense sup­port on his home turf, and is un­likely to view Sharmila as a threat. The re­cent de­ci­sion to cre­ate new dis­tricts has en­hanced his pop­u­lar­ity among the Meitei ma­jor­ity, even if it has an­gered the Na­gas. The United Naga Coun­cil, vig­or­ously op­posed to the new di­vi­sions, has im­posed an eco­nomic block­ade on the state since Novem­ber.

Win or lose, the ques­tion is this: will the assem­bly elec­tions give Sharmila the nec­es­sary ex­pe­ri­ence to be­come as com­pelling a politi­cian as she was an ac­tivist?

IROM SHARMILA

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