Irom Sharmila & the thick lines between activism and politics.

 Irom Sharmila (Iron Lady) has decided to quit politics after her poor performance in the assembly elections of Manipur. She got a meagre 90 votes which is sad but what is sadder is that she has decided to call it quits! After this, many media outlets are projecting her loss as the elegy of Indian democracy.

During Delhi elections, a similar thing happened with Kiran Bedi. Though a global star in her portfolio, she lost in the elections and decided to quit politics. When Captain Lakshmi Sehgal lost the Presidential elections against Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, it became a question of insult to the freedom fighter for many a supporters.

An election is fought between two or more people and there is only one winner. This means that the other contestants have to lose. I don’t understand how this plain fact misses most of these people who seem to decide to cross over to politics from human rights activism. While such activists have had a long and illustrious life in their chosen ideal, it seems they forget that they are starting politics from scratch, from zero, from null and void! No matter how great I become in my current field, I will have to start from scratch once I decide to do something different. In this case if I take politics as a field I am new to, I will have to fight through uncountable number of battles all over again. It won’t matter there that I have fought many battles in the past. Why? Because there is a leader who I am putting myself against! That leader who has been the elected leader of the constituency for the last 5 years or 10 years and no matter how poorly or well he has fared so far in your understanding, he has a broad support on the ground from party workers, campaigners and monetary backing from the central leadership, and his own voter base. If there is a backstory to your struggle, there is more relevant backstory to the leaders you are up against because almost all of their backstory has panned out under their political lifespan. To discount them as non-existent and to take your win as guaranteed would be suicidal.

What happened with Irom Sharmila? Be it because of herself or her advisors, she overestimated her stature. While she might be a respected figure globally, the state was already divided on the issue of her ending her fast. That she was not offered and allowed a home after her decision to end her fast, can be seen as a precursor to things that have come out now. In such a situation to fight against a person who has run 3 successive regimes in the state was itself a poorly conceived idea.

Nupur Sharma of BJP lost in Delhi elections. Arvind Kejriwal was the winner. It was almost given that she would lose the seat. She continues her political journey. Kiran Bedi lost in the same elections, she has quit active politics. It must be impressed upon these activists wanting to be active in political arena that politics is not a post-retirement job. One must feel like a debutante when one is in fact a debutante!

Atal Bihari Vajpayee stood at a distant 3rd position in his first Lok Sabha elections in 1952. In 1957, he was still behind the Congress candidate Pulin Behari Banerji. In 1962, he lost to BK Dhaon of Congress. All these losses were from Lucknow seat, the same Lucknow which later became an impenetrable fortress for any other leader who tried to fight against Vajpayee. In 1957, he lost his deposit from Mathura but got elected from Balrampur constituency. The party called Bharatiya Janta Party which has 282 seats in the Lok Sabha at present, had only 2 seats after the general elections of 1984. Raj Narain, who was instrumental in Indira Gandhi’s disqualification from contesting elections, had lost in 1972 against her before filing the electoral petition. In 1977, he defeated Indira Gandhi by a margin of more than fifty thousand votes.

Were these people any sort of activists? Yes, they were political activists of unbreakable will and courage. Were they politicians? Yes, they were politicians who changed the direction of India’s political discourse forever. Did they quit politics on their first defeat? NO!

It is time our activists who try their hands at politics, show the same mettle and courage that they displayed during their activism years. The eagerness to quit at first sign of defeat is not only a loss to the country but a huge setback to those 90 odd voters who put their confidence in the new leader. Getting 90 votes is not a defeat. It is your first lesson in politics, first taste of operating within the institutions of the country that you have been revolting against and trying to reform all your life. The start must be taken as a start. That you make it look like an end, is your failure and a result of your inflated ego. The voters can’t be blamed for not falling in line with your ideology. The constitution has given them the right to choose.

Madame Irom Sharmila, it is my request to you to not quit politics at this point. The vacuum you create today by your absence will be filled up by someone else, that somebody who might not think of the state and its people like you do. So, hold on yet a while. You have been running a marathon all your life, what made you think politics was a sprint?

Hold on yet a while, brave heart! (Swami Vivekananda)

If the sun by the cloud is hidden a bit,
If the welkin shows but gloom,
Still hold on yet a while, brave heart,
 The victory is sure to come.
No winter was but summer came behind,
Each hollow crests the wave,
They push each other in light and shade;
 Be steady then and brave.
The duties of life are sore indeed,
And its pleasures fleeting, vain,
The goal so shadowy seems and dim,
Yet plod on through the dark, brave heart,
 With all thy might and main.
Not a work will be lost, no struggle vain,
Though hopes be blighted, powers gone;
Of thy loins shall come the heirs to all,
Then hold on yet a while, brave soul,
 No good is e’er undone.
Though the good and the wise in life are few,
Yet theirs are the reins to lead,
The masses know but late the worth;
 Heed none and gently guide.
With thee are those who see afar,
With thee is the Lord of might,
All blessings pour on thee, great soul,
 To thee may all come right!

2 thoughts on “Irom Sharmila & the thick lines between activism and politics.

  1. She certainly won’t give up her struggle but will continue to adapt. I think you are a naive about the business of politicks and how it is done in Manipur. And nothing of the actual campaign was reported so how would you know the ground reality of manipur. But your wish for her not to give up is both appreciated and passed on just not politicking. India is not a western democracy and it continues to do politicking the Indian way. If and when Indians decide to deal with their own corruption they will get leaders more suited to their new goals.

    1. Thank you Desmond for passing on the wish. I continue to hope that Madame Irom Sharmila will continue her political journey. Naive or not, the piece was written to that end. Of course you must be having a deeper understanding of Manipur political scene.

      About the Indian way of politicking, I agree only till that process of getting leaders is limited to only one kind – the kind that waits for favourable currents of either type – social integrity or social corruption.
      There is another set of leaders who don’t wait for these favourable currents and administer bitter pills of change through their work and superlative skills. I have always identified Irom Sharmila with the second kind of leaders.
      I am glad to read that she will continue to adapt. I wanted her to win her seat. Since that didn’t happen, I wanted her to return for the next elections.

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