As soon as I landed in Imphal on March 3, I asked my driver, is Irom Sharmila winning? He looked at me, a shock clearly visible, and he returned me the shock, "Sharmila will get only 30 votes".
Irom Chanu Sharmila, the iron lady of Manipur tasted mud in the game of throne. It was not expected the least by many in national and international media who were not aware of the ground reality back here in Manipur. But, the people of Manipur had it clear in their minds.
Back here, people don't vote for a party. They vote for candidate. Whether it is BJP, Congress or PRJA, the party matters the least. If PRJA has lost the battle, it is not the defeat of PRJA, it is Sharmila who lost the game in Manipur.
But, if we go into the depth and make an assessment of her 16 year long fast, we get to see a total different picture. Sharmila, started her fast following a hostile situation in the state which was an offspring of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act-1957 (AFSPA), within a very short span she shot to fame.
People of Manipur expressed their solidarity to her. But did they really supported her? This question is now valid after Sharmila managed to get only 90 votes, 53 less than NOTA.
For the last 16 years, Sharmila was confined in a special ward at JNIMS in Imphal. Every year she was released for a day, only to be arrested again on the next day. But in these 16 years Irom gained massive popularity both inside and outside Manipur, even in abroad.
Various organisations were formed to back her. One among them was 'Irom Sharmila Solidarity Group'. Comprising of women mostly, this is the group that used to sit on hunger strike along with Irom Sharmila for a day outside JNIMS every year.
A routine affair when she was released for a day, from jail. In the last 16 years Irom Sharmila became an icon. Her silence was a symbol of protest. She became a 'Che' for Manipur.
But then, why did she lost the election? Why did she lost the support she enjoyed till few months back?
Irom Sharmila, lost the battle the day she broke her fast. People of Manipur, backed her not because she was fighting for them, but because she was fighting to repeal AFSPA, an act that gives immunity to soldiers to kill anyone on mere suspicion. An act, which is regarded as a license to kill in Manipur. An act that is responsible 1528 innocent people.
In the press conference addressed by Irom Sharmila soon after breaking her fast, when the press, comprising mostly of national and international reporters, asked Sharmila, the reason of breaking her fast, what Sharmila replied shocked the people of Manipur. "I want to get married", this is what she said. This one sentence was enough to make all the damages.
Now, many among you might say that Sharmila has every right to get married. I agree. But, the fight she took up was not her personal. It was an emotional issue for the people who have seen the body of Manorama Devi. Those who saw the Ema's (Mother) of Manipur protesting naked outside the historic Kangla Fort, never wanted such a surrender from anyone who raised the issue of AFSPA.
My inquisitiveness took me to the door of a senior journalist, who had covered Sharmila from the Day 1 of her fast. When I asked him why people of Manipur had ditched Sharmila, he said, "Sharmila ditched the people of Manipur. This is what she deserve. She wants to get married, it is her personal decision and the people of Manipur considered her an icon. So they never expected their icon to come up with a personal reason to give up her fast."
Another senior journalist opined, "Irom Sharmila never consulted the people of Manipur before breaking her fast. She was under pressure from many outsiders including some NGOs. Had she consulted the people of Manipur once, or for that sake at least with the Irom Sharmila Solidarity Group, the mandate would have been different."
When I pointed that very soon she approached the people seeking their support and announcing her entry into politics, another journalist in the room interrupted me and said, "People believe that it was just a damage control measure by Sharmila. When she realised that she made a mistake by not consulting the people of Manipur, she decided to cover it up."
According to the common people of Manipur, Irom Sharmila made fun of AFSPA and to get married to her longtime boyfriend Desmond Coutinho, a Goan who lives in London, she staged a political drama.
People believe that she was well aware that she will not win the elections. Who is right here and who is wrong will be decided by the future. But, for the people of Manipur, Irom Sharmila committed suicide by her sudden move.
With the downfall of Irom Sharmila and her disastrous performance in the field of politics, now questions are also being raised on the genuinity of her hunger strike and the reason behind it.
But let me make it clear, from what I have experienced there. The fight of the people of Manipur to repeal AFSPA will continue even without Sharmila. The fight for justice of Manorama Devi and justice to the 1528 persons killed in alleged fake encounter (matter subjudice) will continue.
It is Irom Sharmila who failed to remain an icon. For those who are blaming the people of Manipur for doing injustice to Irom, should also know that her sudden decision did more injustice to the people of Manipur.