Having broken her 16-year-old fast on 9th August 2016, Irom Sharmila set out to contest the Manipur Assembly Elections this year. Her loss is a sad one, let’s review why the ultimate Iron Lady who symbolized resistance and freedom of action failed to win the faith of her people.
Having won a mere 90 votes in comparison to the 18,649 polled in the favour of three-time chief minister, Obobi, Irom Sharmila obtained a meager 0.33% of the votes in Thoubal, her very own constituency. For those who opted for NOTA (none of the above), she didn’t even pose as a viable option. For someone who dedicated her entire life fighting against the oppression of the people by draconian acts like the AFSPA ( Armed Forces Special Powers Act), this comes as a shattering defeat.
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 was 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. 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.
As accurately put by Huffington Post, “Sharmila’s loss is not a reflection on her popularity in the state, but on her shortcomings as a political leader.”