GUWAHATI: Manipur’s iconic activist Irom Sharmila’s popularity will be tested on Wednesday when the state goes to the second and final phase of Assembly polls.
The activist, who ended her 16-year-long hunger strike last year, is up against three-time incumbent chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh of the Congress in Thoubal. He had won the last two elections from here by a huge margin of votes. BJP stalwart L Basanta Singh is also contesting from here.
Poll pundits feel that the real contest is going to be between Ibobi and Basanta. The general perception is that Sharmila will not be able to give a fight to the duo, and her chances of winning are slim. Asked as to why she was contesting from Thoubal, Sharmila told Express, “I wanted to know the real feelings of the people in the chief minister’s constituency”.
Ibobi said Sharmila was an over-hyped candidate. “Please wait for the election results and you will see,” he told Express.
The dip in Sharmila’s popularity can be attributed to two factors. Firstly, in a state that has some 1,500 cases of extra-judicial killings, her decision to end her fast against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was seen as an end of the movement against the ‘draconian’ law.
Another reason is her public announcement that she would marry Desmond Coutinho, a Goa-born British national, after the elections were over. Sharmila’s supporters, who have always accused him of diverting her campaign against AFSPA, beat him up once on the premises of an Imphal court.
Though Sharmila plunged into mainstream politics, she insisted that her goal remained the same - repealing AFSPA. She said she had only changed the turf of her fight. She is contesting on the ticket of People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), which she had floated last year. The PRJA’s initial plan was to field 20 candidates, but it ended up fielding just three candidates.