Irom Sharmila: Death Of A Fast


Irom Sharmila ends her 16-year fast by tasting honey, in Imphal on Tuesday. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar/The Hindu
Irom Sharmila ends her 16-year fast by tasting honey, in Imphal on Tuesday. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar/The Hindu

Irom Sharmila’s withdrawal of her fast has come as a blow in varying degrees to many. There are also many others who welcome her decision to end her fast instead of sticking on to it at ridiculous levels. I am thinking of the many NGO leaders who invested their energy and money on Irom with the hope that their credibility will soar high at the international arena.

They projected her as their prodigy and as an icon promoted by them. They celebrated their income that flowed through the dreamy castles they constructed around the plummeting image of Irom Sharmila and now all of a sudden they find their castles crumbling like ninepins under their feet. Will Sharmila resurrect herself to serve their purposes? Will they resurrect Irom to camouflage their inevitable defeat?

Family members and activist friends of Irom have started shunning her immediately after she ended her fast. We cannot steer clear of the inexorable question” if they loved her for whatever cause she espoused, why are they shunning her now? Was she a pawn in their hands, I mean, did they expect her to be a pawn? There was a long time when she believed that her fast would lead to the lifting of AFSPA.

Now she realizes that her calculations did not, do not and will not pay in the way that she and her friends anticipated. She must be appreciated for the courage she has manifested in the withdrawal of the fast. Does anyone think that she did not foresee the type of knottiness that her withdrawal of the fast would heap on her? A profound respect for her decision, however, unpalatable it might be for many, is the dire need of the hour.

Irom Sharmila can quickly turn the table on her ‘promoters’ and supporters and say that she was allowed to be imprisoned in the hospital for more than 16 long years. The civil society that supported her cause failed miserably and that she is left with no other option except the withdrawal. But she has not said it so far, as far as I know. The civil society had much more space for manoeuvring and more power to lobby. She can easily conclude that her incarceration in the hospital served the agenda of the civil society much better than her espoused cause of freedom for the people of Manipur.

There is a need to understand the fate of resistance in a strongly evolving capitalistic nation state. It will take recourse to Plato, Chanakya, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche, without ever mentioning their names, to put down resistance at all costs. The postmodern capitalist state has wholesomely outsmarted all these greats of all time in strategizing its march into the formative elements of the state as its agent.

Unfortunately, the civil society has no idea of the enormous power the state can wield wildly at anything that is remotely perceived as anti-state. The civil society takes on the state rhetorically and not strategically. It has no patience to study the deep rooted ‘evil’ forethought of the state and its undeclared strategies not only to promote its profit making designs but also to camouflage the same under attractive packages for the needy. Some leaders can be mesmerizing in their counter rhetoric pulling away the masses to their sides.

Thus, resistance often assumes the face of reaction to something that the state has already implemented. It is a paramount duty of the resistant forces to gauge the internal sustainability of their resistance for a long duration. In the absence of such objective assessment, the state will be laughing at itself and counter gauging the stretch of resistance.

Civil society does not have the grasp of issues, the patience and the wherewithal to proactively initiate and sustain the life struggles of the citizens.   It does not have free access to material resources for the sustainability of resistance as the state has for the sustainability of aggression and exploitation. It is the simple history. Many resistance movements achieved their victory because they were able to point physically out the oppressor or the enemy to the people and converge their energy resource for the fight.

The civil society is often seen at the crossroads even in identifying the real enemy. Their fingers crisscross when it comes to identifying the real ‘adversary.’ Often there is no such opposing side that the people can see. When the civil society points out to the state as the other side, the voters see it as the same side with them.  It seems to be the crux of the problem, that the people elect the governments and the civil society points its fingers to the governments as anti-people. The laborious point of the intellectual civil society is that the majority of voters didn’t vote for a particular government. Well said!

What has the civil society done to change the equation? It does not realize that there are electoral systems that will provide representation to all voters? It is not even aware that there are other systems of elections to make representation worthy of democracy, people’s power. The world today has already seen 89 countries shifting to proportional representation system to make their democracy functional in favour of the voters.

The Indian civil society is still hobnobbing with the British system of elections that is a mockery of Indian democracy. On this front, both the governments and the civil society are hand in hand. A representative electoral system that will favour the Adijans (Dalits), Adivasis, minorities and women is seen as an enemy by the caste society. When they say that governments are anti-people, and they join hands with the governments to support an electoral system that benefits the same government, there is a problem of credibility of the civil society. The dividing line between the caste society and civil society in India seems to be quite diluted in mesmerizing discourses of democracy and governance.

The inevitable conclusion then is that like the many other agencies that support governments, whom they project as anti-people, civil society is also a tacit supporter of the rulers. Their anti-people slogan can have only a rhetoric value. The same capitalistic and caste values seem to be the underlying bond between the governments and civil society in India.

Such a civil society will not have the teeth to go in solidarity with the likes of IromSharmila. She is more legitimized to withdraw her fast against AFSPA than the civil society that is angry at her now.

M C Raj is an Author of 22 published books including 7 fictions. He writes on philosophy, psychology and social issues. He is a social reformer working for Proportional Representation system in India. He also has initiated the Adijan Panchayat Movement in Karnataka.

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