Nobody would call Irom Sharmila dishonest or selfish. The veteran hunger-striker literally shunned food for 16 long years in protest against the imposition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. Now a politician who recently floated an outfit in October, her People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) party is just contesting from five seats in the hill state, often dubbed “India’s Switzerland.” The PRJA has just managed to raise Rs 3.1 lakh in total for campaigning, a paltry sum when viewed how vulgarly lavish elections in India can get.
So, when she talks, we should listen.
Since October, around the time she announced her outfit, Sharmila has been claiming that she was approached by Bharatoya Janata Party (BJP) leaders who offered her a ticket and a sum of Rs 36 crore to campaign for the next month’s election. The allegations were reportedly made during an event at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi on Gandhi Jayanti. Reportedly, she reiterated her allegations recently in an interview to an English news channel.
“Their suggestion is [for] this fight, I’ll need around Rs 36 crores. If I have it, I should produce it. If not, the Centre will sanction it,” Sharmila was quoted as saying by NDTV. The comments have been receiving scant coverage, as the state of Manipur which goes votes next month and is currently facing a massive economic crisis.
The allegations are irreconcilable with the Narendra Modi government’s rhetoric against political corruption. In the recent national budget, the government even capped the limit of cash donations that political parties could receive to Rs 2,000 in a bid to usher in more transparency in India’s notorious political process.
On the other hand, Sharmila is seen implementing the ideals that Modi has been preaching. According to a report in Hindustan Times, crowdfunding is the main source of her party’s funds. The activist-turned-politician is reportedly cycling to her rallies to cut down on unnecessary poll expenditure. Each of the candidate contesting on PRJA’s ticket would end up getting Rs 60,000 on average for electioneering, which is much lower than the limit of Rs 20 lakh set by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
What’s at stake for people of Manipur this election?
A strategically significant border state in India’s north-east, Manipur is divided into 60 electoral districts and had a population of 2.7 million as of 2011. The state has been facing a crippling economic blockade of late, which is being enforced by the United Naga Council(UNC) in protest against state’s incumbent Congress government’s decision to carve out seven new districts out of region that’s got a predominantly Naga population. Critics of Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress government, which include the BJP, say that making new districts was being carried out with a motive of consolidating Congress’ vote share ahead of state election.
Congress, on the other hand, are accusing the BJP of deliberately sabotaging the political talks with the Naga groups aimed at finding a solution to the ongoing crisis, in order to juice the blockade for political gains. It is pretty straightforward that the local population is bound to hold Congress somewhat responsible for pushing the state in a crisis-like situation. They may also veer to the BJP, which is in power at the Centre, in the election in a bid to find a solution to the crisis which the state government has clearly failed to take care of.
More than hundred days old, the blockade in Manipur is reported to have caused shortage of essential items that any society would require for its day-to-day functioning. According to reports coming in, gas cylinders are being sold for over Rs 2,000 a piece compared to government price of Rs 568 and long queues outside petrol pumps have become a constant spotting around the state.
The decision to scrap high denomination bank notes is understood to have further impacted the people for the worst.