AFSPA is unconstitutional. Despite being in the 70th year of our independence, we are still governed by the vestiges of a colonial past. We have overshadowed our people’s demand for self governance, cornered them and bottled their identity under the guise of patriotism. What dominion does a country, with such a chequered history, have over a citizenry that is mauled by suffering and disarray? What is patriotism without ‘liberty?’ Recall Rousseau: “There can be no patriotism without liberty, no liberty without virtue, no virtue without citizens.”
Irom Sharmila, a symbol of grit and resilience, has been simmering in suffering, not of her own making, for the last 16 years. Behind her struggle is a series of struggles endured by the people of the North East. The call for self governance by Phizo (NNC) in 1947 was transposed by Nehru’s trivialization of purpose. What is happening today is the ripple effect of the multiple years of neglect, relegation of demand for Home Rule and the subsequent repression under the AFSPA.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was the government’s solution to the rising insurgency in the 1950s. So much so that the Act was passed with minimal debate; having been debated in Parliament for just 7 hours! There can be no retribution for the horrors inflicted in the process. Recall the army strike-down of Mizoram. In an attempt to suppress a few odd insurgent groups, the government has birthed one too many!
It is a pity that Irom Sharmila’s decision to end her fast has been met with such criticism and ambivalence. If history is any reference, any person fighting our struggles through a saga of personal sacrifice is to either be deified or abhorred. Gandhi is either a Mahatma or nothing. Irom’s decision to fast was an independent decision. She had no political motivation. Her decision was humanitarian and for the ‘greater good’. She aligned her struggle with the Gandhian principles of Civil Disobedience. But, Gandhi was the Mahatma. If he was your friend in penury, he also made pacts with the government of the day. He was a strategist. The premise of a struggle lay in its mobilization as a movement.
Anna Hazare was heard because there was a commonality of purpose. People were fed up with corruption. The campaign was mechanistically planned. Mind you, the struggle for a Lokpal was a struggle of over 40 years. The idea was floated in 1963, however successful the campaign of 2011, the result was far from satisfactory. A Lokpal is yet to be appointed. Instead, political motives flourished. The North East, on the other hand, is connected by a ‘Chicken’s corridor.’ States are bound by archaic customary laws. A Najma Heptullah is appointed Governor only for strategic reasons. The crises of the North East do not bind the rest of the country. Unfortunately, the world is completely immune to a humanitarian crisis ensuing on the borders of isolation.
To win elections, Irom will require obtaining a majority of 30+1 seats in the 60 seat Unicameral State Assembly of Manipur. Her decision to not join any political party and contest as an Independent candidate has its pluses and minuses. A political party based on the anvils of an ideology has a higher chance of success than the one with none. Though Kejriwal’s AAP does not seem to have an ideology, but it was run on a series of promises which were the backbone of the anti-corruption campaign. What I am saying is that sometimes it is alright to hit the iron when it is hot. In case she contests as an Independent Candidate, in order to become the Chief Minister (sic), she needs to be supported by a like-minded Alliance.
How that is to be achieved is difficult to understand considering her alienation from people and constituencies all these years. She will have a lot of leg work to do. Also, with the recent apathy of Manipuris towards her, social integration is primal. Why Manipur needs an Irom is because the State has atrophied into corruption and babudom. Irom could contest and do a ditto Delhi. Her personal sacrifice in this struggle of over two decades cannot be undermined. But let’s not pin all hope on what happened in Tripura. Section 3 of the AFSPA Act remains a bone of contention. The Centre has retained the final veto on what constitutes a disturbed region. State Resolutions and recommendations can be outrightly vetoed. But where there is democracy, there is hope. The world has opened up to Irom’s Manipur. Irom Sharmila needs to be celebrated. Now more than ever. Our desertion of her based on her choice to marry or end her fast infringes upon the same principles of liberty we have been fighting to uphold.
Swati Chawla, New Delhi
The writer is a political and legal researcher based in Delhi