Manipur’s iconic activist Irom Sharmila floated a new party on Tuesday, opening a political front in her long-running battle against a controversial law blamed for human rights abuses by security personnel.
Sharmila, 44, announced her decision at a crowded press conference in state capital Imphal, more than two months after she broke what is acknowledged as the world’s longest hunger strike – a marathon 16-year fast demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
“Our movement is to bring the real meaning of democracy where right to justice is delivered. So we really require (the) people’s support in bringing the change,” she said while announcing her party, Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA).
Assembly elections in the state are due early next year.
Imphal (Manipur): Irom Sharmila announces her regional party ‘People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance’ pic.twitter.com/hIwJjmbPbe— ANI (@ANI_news) October 18, 2016
Erendro Leichonbam is convenor of Irom Sharmila's PRJA party of which she is co-convenor @htTweets— Rahul Karmakar (@rahconteur) October 18, 2016
Sharmila – also known as a ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’ -- said the aim of her political struggle will be to bring “non-violence, peace and understanding” to the northeastern state, wreaked by decades of militancy that has left hundreds of civilians and security dead.
She had launched her hunger strike in 2000 after security personnel gunned down 10 people, said to be civilians without links to militant groups.
The AFSPA, first introduced by the British, is currently in force in some of the northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir. The law shields army personnel from prosecution against even rape and murder charges.
Sharmila, who had expressed her desire to become the chief minister, said she will contest the polls from two constituencies including Khangabok, represented in the assembly by chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
She said her party will field candidates in about 20 seats.
Sharmila’s decision to end her fast and float a party had drawn criticism from a section in Manipur including some militant groups which had seen the move as “surrendering” to the Indian political system. Most of the militant groups based in the state oppose Indian rule saying the erstwhile Manipuri kingdom was forcefully included in the Indian Union.
Sharmila defended her move saying that 16 years of her agitation did not bring her the desired result.
She also took a swipe at the Congress chief minister saying “the present-day rulers are not doing anything against the draconian law”.
“We want to set an example in electoral politics in the country…so we will conduct a survey and take help and cooperation from the public for campaigning,” said Erendro Leichonbam, the convenor of the party.