Activist Irom Sharmila, who is making her electoral debut in the Manipur polls, today said she has not given up her fight against controversial law AFSPA but only changed her strategy.
Sharmila said a section of people even wanted her "martyrdom" during the 16-year-old fast against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that she decided to end last year. The activist went on to form her own party - Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) and has decided to fight the March assembly elections with the sole agenda of withdrawal of the Act from Manipur.
"Even if one of us win, we will be the voice of the people inside the assembly and will question AFSPA on the floor of the House," she told PTI to questions on why her party PRJA had fielded only three candidates and whether they could play an important role in the 60-member Assembly if they win.
Sharmila is contesting the Thoubal seat against Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and BJP's L Bashanta Singh. On what would she do if PRJA fails to taste success in the polls, she said, "Even if we fail, we will continue our fight. We will stay in politics and fight the next parliamentary elections."
During the interview Sharmila said, "AFSPA has never been an issue in the polls. But I want to make a point in the elections that AFSPA is not only a draconian law but also one which is a gross violation of human rights. "Even now other parties are talking about alleged fake encounters in the state," she said. On her journey from being an activist to a politician, Sharmila said, "The fast was an emotional fight. But after 16 years I realised that it didn't achieve any purpose. But when I withdrew my fast a lot of people in Manipur misunderstood me, they thought I had given up. "A section of people even wanted my martyrdom during fast. But the fact is I have not given up the fight against AFSPA, I have only changed my strategy," she said.
Sharmila, who is also known as the 'Iron Lady' said when she had met people and explained to them about her new strategy, they understood her and gave their blessings. "People now have understood me and are with me," she said. Criticising both Congress and BJP, she said, "The economic blockade is a gameplan of BJP and Congress to divert the attention from the demand of withdrawal of AFSPA and misrule and corruption of Congress government."
Sharmila said, "You will see that by this economic blockade Congress and BJP have shifted the entire focus of politics on blockade. They are not doing any kind of constructive movement." On whether there is any possibility of her party joining hands with BJP in case of a hung assembly, the 44-year-old activist-turned-politician said, "There is no chance of going with Congress or BJP after elections. PRJA will prefer to go with small political outfits like CPI, CPI(M) and others who are against AFSPA".
An indefinite economic blockade was launched by United Naga Council (UNC) since November 1, 2016 against the state government's decision to create seven new districts in the landlocked state by bifurcating the existing ones.
The blockade severely affected the supply of essential commodities, including fuel in the state. The state government has, however, claimed that the decision was taken to improve administrative efficiency. Sharmila said neither Congress nor BJP is "serious" about dialogue with UNC and convince them to lift the blockade. "Rather they (Cong and BJP) want to stretch the matter."
Facing severe shortage of funds and manpower, PRJA has taken to online crowd funding. It is the first regional party in Manipur which has resorted to finance poll expenses through crowd funding and has so far collected Rs 4.5 lakh through it. "I campaign on my cycle. I don't believe in publishing posters and hand bills. Your work, your movement for the people will speak for you. I think less than Rs one lakh is enough for a candidate to fight elections if they follow my style of campaigning," she said.