Headlines through last fortnight in Manipur and the entire country was quite understandably dominated by Irom Sharmila. It was most deserving too for someone with such unmatched courage, and determination to sacrifice for a cause so widely shared and debated. The sudden shifts in the tones and tenures in the course of this drama were overwhelming as much as confounding, especially with so many from the mainstream media parachuting in to catch a glimpse of what was indeed a historic event, creating a din in their bid to be one up, therefore spicing up their stories with backgrounds to the best of their comprehension, which unfortunately for many of them, was not too deep. But as in any such dins, the sensibly moderated voices get lost and only the shrillest and most accusative remained audible. Thankfully though, after the shrill brigades departed to chase other catchy headlines elsewhere, not only did the reflective and considerate voices resurface, but the people of Manipur, for whom Sharmila’s changed strategy is not just news but also something that would impact their own lives, earned the much needed space to come to terms with the new circumstance. As a resilient society, unsettled as they were by the upset in an equilibrium they so much took for granted, they are now prepared to look for a new equilibrium. According to local newspapers, Sharmila Kanba Lup, an organisation formed by a group of matronly ladies to assist Sharmila in her hunger strike while it lasted, and who were among those visibly furious at Sharmila’s decision to end her fast, have reconciled, and in a meeting with Sharmila two days after she ended her fast, agreed to disagree on the subject, and part ways. Sharmila would continue to fight the AFSPA as a politician and the latter would continue their agitation against it. The Lup was thereafter dissolved. Other civil society groups are following suit.
If anybody wants to talk about a good example of a democratic problem resolution, this cannot be very far from it too, that is if the atmosphere holds, and we have no reason to doubt it would. The initial explosion of anger, and breach in the relationship between Sharmila and her supporters, on second and cooler consideration, seem understandable too, this being an issue all of them hold passionately. The hurt was also, as we have noted earlier, on account of Sharmila not taking her supporters into confidence, for whatever the reason, on such a momentous decision. It is not about seeking permission at all, but of placing trust in fellow travellers. There is hardly likely to be anybody not hurt to discover important decisions made by another in the family not from the person making the decision but from the media. But the communication gap probably has a legitimate reason, for Sharmila was prisoner still in a solitary cell at the JN Hospital while she made the decision.
Nobody would have any doubt whatsoever now that Sharmila is extraordinary. She has that madness in her that few are gifted with. By madness we of course do not mean insanity. Instead we mean in the sense that Zorba the Greek meant it when he said, “In life we need some madness, otherwise we will never have the courage to cut the rope and be free.” Sharmila’s decision to go on an indefinite hunger strike, her perseverance despite persuasions by many to end it, and now her decision to call it off and join politics, all say this loudly. This madness notwithstanding, let everybody be reminded nobody is infallible. Sharmila too, even if she was a goddess, a metaphoric reference to Sharmila the national media has today become so fond of. This comparison is not altogether wrong. Many of her supporters wanted her to continue to be on the pedestal her extraordinary protest put her on, even when this was not yielding any result. They wanted her to always remain a goddess they can look up to, even though she had in no uncertain terms said she wanted now to be only a human, pursuing ordinary earthly desires and longings. There is hardly likely to be anybody who would not have been touched by the voice of the little girl inside the icon crying out for compassion, and indeed as we have seen there have been endless tides of support for her in what was portrayed to be her confrontation with an unfeeling Manipuri society. All this is very well, but we just want to flag a danger in Sharmila’s interest. This support should not be also blind to the folly that Sharmila can be pushed into. Their unqualified adulations can actually lead to false sense of hope and grandeur in Sharmila, making her believe she will be unbeatable even in the electoral arena. Elections are a different ball game altogether. This is by no means a one-agenda campaign as the anti-AFSPA campaign is. People will be voting for so many other things besides AFSPA, and these include jobs, roads, education and more. She should not be discouraged, but she must be given the right picture of what she plans to enter into. And this right picture will also include the uncomfortable reality that even a goddess is not infallible.