Manipur’s iconic activist Irom Sharmila on Saturday announced she is quitting electoral politics, barely a few hours after her debut polls ended in a debacle – she managed just 90 votes in her contest against chief minister O Ibobi singh.
“I don’t feel ashamed of my defeat but am fed up of elections and won’t contest again in future,” Sharmila told Hindustan Times.
“But I want my party, Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) to survive.”
For 16 years, Sharmila was a role-model for the people of Manipur, a fearless activist who staged the world’s longest hunger strike against what is widely seen as a draconian law.
And her decision to contest the 2017 assembly election against the Congress chief minister was billed as the battle to watch out for this poll season.
On Saturday, the battle emerged as a no-contest as Sharmila, 43, managed just 90 votes to hand, probably, one of the easiest electoral victories for the Congress leader.
Sharmila said she wants to go on a month-long retreat to an ‘ashram’ in south India, most likely in Kerala or Karnataka, and contemplate.
“It was not the result I expected. During electioneering, all the masses whom I met were sympathetic to my cause. But they ended up voting for others, due to their selfish motives,” she said.
She, however, refused to answer a question on her earlier declaration of marrying longtime partner Desmond Coutanho, an NRI with roots in Goa, after the elections.
Experts attribute Sharmila’s debacle to her calling off her strike against the AFSPA, which many saw as big climbdown.
Sharmila formed the PRJA but failed to find resonance among voters. Two other candidates from the party also lost.
Against’s Sharmila’s 90 votes, the chief minister got 18,649 votes while the second-placed L Basanta of BJP got 8179.
“We really like her cause (for repealing AFSPA), but we’re compelled to support someone whom we think is capable of fighting back and winning the elections,” said Y Roben (42), a resident of Thoubal.
“After all, election and politics is a number game.”
Sharing similar sentiments, first time voter W Biseshwar (22) told HT that even if she had been elected, her party would not have been able to play key role in forming the next government.
“People here don’t vote in favour of party or personality. The one who is influential usually wins,” said N Manitombi (54), a vegetable vendor at the iconic all-woman market in state capital Imphal.
Several of Sharmila’s close associates were against her decision of quitting the fast and entering politics. Some of them, even family members, deserted her.
Undeterred, she cycled across Imphal Valley, interacting with voters and seeking their blessings. The party, the first to be crowd-funded, also received Rs 50,000 as donation from AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
However, PRJA’s lack of presence in the grass roots and organisational structure worked against Sharmila.
Two other PRJA candidates, Harvard-educated Erendro Leichombam who contested from Thangmeiband, and Najima Bibi, the lone Muslim woman candidate in fray who contested from Wabagai, too failed to attract voters.
Sharmila – also known as a ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’ – had 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 civilians on suspicion of militant links.