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Polls and AFSPA
Irom Sharmila's blunder by entering into electoral fray does not de-legitimise her struggle or human rights agenda
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Iron lady Irom Sharmila's crushing and humiliating defeat as she took on Manipur chief minister on his turf and got only 90 votes puts a seal on her career as a politician. She made a great blunder by consolidating the goodwill she has earned and investing it in an electoral battle. However, it in no ways dilutes her symbolism as a campaigner of human rights. For her tireless struggles and her remarkable hunger strike which she called off after 12 years, she continues to inspire respect and awe in and outside Manipur. It was naïve of her to believe that this respect would translate into votes. Electoral politics is an entirely different game. Success in electoral politics is primarily determined not just by clean images and contribution to one particular issue held dear by the local constituency, in this case opposition to Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Voting patterns are determined by multiple factors including the ability of political parties and individuals to carve strategies for reaping votes unfortunately, mostly by understanding and exploiting the divisions between ethnic and religious groups. Irom Sharmila was too straight forward to be cut out for that craft. Voting patterns are also determined by the day to day issues of development, employment, basic necessities, education, health-care and day to day lives of people. She had nothing to sell other than her commitment to human rights and her opposition to AFSPA. Sharmila's defeat is instructive of two significant facts about elections in Manipur and for that matter other conflict ridden states of the country. One is that human rights issue on its own does not make a potent recipe for electoral success even as the issue remains essentially dear to the public of these states. Second is that elections are seen as distinct from the politics of conflict. They are primarily about issues like sadak, bijli, paani.

This would explain why people queue up in hordes outside voting booths during elections in conflict states even as they deeply believe in the need for resolving the political disputes in their respective states. New Delhi, mainstream political parties and a section of media has always wrongly interpreted the huge voter turn-out in the north-eastern states and Kashmir as some kind of a public affirmation in Indian democracy. It is simply about public making use of what is available to them, the right of franchise for their basic needs. Just as high voter turn-out in elections in conflict states cannot be deemed as a referendum in favour of integration with India, Irom Sharmila's humiliating defeat cannot be construed as a vote against AFSPA. It is simply a rejection of her ability as a politician. This should serve as a lesson for Irom Sharmila, who sought to cash in on the respect she had earned for electioneering, howsoever noble the intentions may have been. Human rights defenders and campaigners inspire respect for the work they do, not for what they may not be good at performing. At the same time it is also a lesson for the government which tends to ignore the human rights agenda or remains in denial of the same. While political dispute, human rights and AFSPA find no currency among voters while choosing their representatives, these issues and their campaigners have a legitimacy of their own that is undeniable. New Delhi should be able to understand this distinction between vote bank politics and human rights agenda and not mix the two for sheer convenience. Human rights is a serious issue that needs redressal as do the long pending political disputes. The quicker and more peacefully this happens, the better it is for the health of the country and the states in question.

News Updated at : Monday, March 20, 2017
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