GUWAHATI: Manipur’s activist-turned-politician Irom Sharmila’s foray into electoral politics has not been a pleasant one. She lost the polls by a huge margin of votes to three-time incumbent chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh of the Congress in Thoubal seat.
Irom Sharmila had changed the turf of her fight against controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) last year by ending her 16-year long fast and founding People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA). She had asserted that she would try and achieve her goal, which is the repeal of AFSPA, politically.
There are basically three factors behind her defeat. She lost mass support by ending her fast and contesting elections. In a State that has some 1,500 cases of extra-judicial killings, she was the face of the movement against AFSPA. So, when she ended her fast, people perceived it as the end of the movement.
Her popularity also fell after her plans to get married to Goa-born British national Desmond Coutinho, whom her supporters have always accused of diverting her fight against AFSPA. She had plans to tie the nuptial knot after the polls but Desmond recently said the marriage would not take place before 2019 (Lok Sabha) elections.
The third is her inexperience in electoral politics. Ibobi is a seasoned politician and given his influence over voters, Sharmila’s defeat was a foregone conclusion. The chief minister had guided his party to power for three terms on the trot. He himself won the last polls from Thoubal by huge margins. Ibobi won the polls defeating his nearest rival Leitanthem Basanta Singh of BJP by over 10,000 votes.
Another reason is the PRJA’s low-key poll campaign. The party, which fielded just three candidates, fought the polls with less than Rs.3 lakh. There was a perception among people in Manipur that she would not even be able to give Ibobi a fight, let alone win.
For Sharmila, it was a symbolic fight. She received 90 votes, which was lesser than the 143 votes that went in favour of None Of The Above (NOTA).