Text courtesy: Imphal Free Press, editorial, 13 March
On the morrow of the election to the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly and the razor edge hung electors’ verdict, it is difficult not to be reminded of what German philosopher Karl Popper said what the most important virtue of a liberal democracy is. Democracy is not perfect and cannot be so be it the ‘first by the post’ system that we inherited from the British, or the ‘proportionate representation’ system which much of continental Europe follows, but the one value which is common to both is that these are systems in which the people can change their rulers without the need for bloodshed.
Those who win election take over the reins of state power and those who lose walk away gracefully, disappointed though they may be, and choose to play the democratic role of an opposition. The fractured verdict has made the birth pang of the new government a little more prolonged and painful, but there is no way to avoid it now. In the tradition of what Popper said of democracy, whatever the outcome of the fight for power may be, let everybody, not just the parties contesting for power now, but also all of us citizens as well, respect the mandate of the people and be content with the government we get.
If a change is desired, let that opportunity be in the next election five years hence. In the meantime, we also hope those elected do not put their personal greed before the state’s dignity.
There were many disappointments in the way people voted, including the way they allowed their votes to be bought with cash, the many defections that happened in its run up, the cacophonic advertisement campaigns vilifying political opponents personally and unfairly etc., but there were also many encouraging signs demonstrating why the beautiful spirit of plural Manipur is not altogether lost yet. It had seemed at one stage that the Congress would draw a blank in amongst the Nagas and the BJP would be marginalized in the valley, reflecting the nature of ethnic polarization in the past few months.
It may be recalled the Congress was not even allowed to campaign in much of the Naga dominated hill districts. Yet, all such doomsday forecasts were proven wrong by the people’s verdict delivered by secret ballots. The BJP was the choice of an impressive many in the valley, and the Congress was far from wiped out from the Naga districts, defeating all the sinister and divisive politics being pushed around. To those who believe in pluralism and free choice, this must come across as a cause for celebration. The fractured verdict represents the pain the people were being put through, but the variety and unregulated nature of the people’s choice of who they think are fit to lead them for the next five years indicate Manipur pluralism is resilient and not easy to destroy.
There was another excruciating lesson. Irom Chanu Sharmila, the woman who gave 16 years of her youth fasting alone in her lonely special prison cell in a hospital to fight for the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA 1958, was so humiliatingly dismissed from politics with just 90 votes in her contest against the (former) Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi. Sad though this is, it must be said the pedestal she had been placed on for so long made Sharmila develop a hubris that made her blind to all cautions by well-wishers, including this newspaper, that there is much more to politics than just removal of the AFSPA. This, it was quite evident, was not all her fault, and that she was actually nudged into believing she was invincible.
We are not necessarily referring to only a particular foul-mouthed, name-calling, idiotically presumptuous individual close to her, but an adulating horde often seen putting up clever lines on social media deifying her or expressing their moral solidarity with her struggle, often also ridiculing those around her, but seldom seen around her in person. An icon cannot avoid fans no doubt, but what she could have best benefitted from were honest critics of her ways which could have helped her correct her perspectives when they went wrong. There was never any doubt that the fate she suffered at Thoubal was coming right from the very moment she decided she would contest against the Chief Minister and that she would be Chief Minister. This was a constituency not even her own where she herself could have voted. Sharmila as a public figure ought to have also realized her private and public lives are sacred to her in their own unique ways, and that mixing them can be mutually lethal.
Some aspects of a public personality’s private life need to be kept in the closet away from public political space. But we are happy the iron lady is not giving up and though would not be contesting elections again, would continue to be the moral backbone of her gritty party PRJA. The Manipuri Sumang Lila ridicule ‘Nakhon phei, pung thillu’ says it all. Roughly (you can have a good voice but that does not mean you can drum well). Nobody will ever doubt Sharmila’s star status as a non-violent resistance fighter, but she can be a bad politician.