Editorial – North by North-east, Challenging the State:Will Hazare fast for Sharmila?


By Sanjoy HazarikaThe impact of Anna Hazare’s faston issues of corruption in public life has been extensive – but it has also opened up an ideological but farcical divide between what some say are the “intimidatory” tactics of “civil society” and genuine “democratic processes”. In fact, columnist Santosh Desai (a corporate honcho who is described as a social commentator) in the Times of India, says that the campaign byIrom Sharmila, who has been fasting in Manipur for a decade against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, lacks “certain legitimacy” which enables the Indian State and its proxy the Manipur state government to force-feed her for the past 10 years. “Certain legitimacy?” Rubbish.That’s looking at the issue from the converse: in truth, the state force-feeds Sharmila because both its reality in the state and AFSPA lack legitimacy; they cannot afford to let her die because that will set into place a set of uncontrollable explosive events that both New Delhi and Chief Minister Ibobi Singh’s highly corrupt government in Imphal would find impossible to handle.Manipur is a tinder box, a brooding, dark, dissatisfied, creative, energetic, suspicious and very bitter tinder box of contradictory pulls and pressures, an ethnic caldron that splutters and bursts from time to time, from day to day in different places and ways.Let’s take three issues, which are not even known outside of Manipur, and which raise the issue of angst about India itself, in its peripheries.One, Irom Sharmila– she says that the Centre has “double standards” when dealing with someone like Anna Hazare who could mobile support from middle class India because of widespread anger over the untrammeled corruption of politicians and their handpicked babus. An activist says that while Mr. Hazare was lionized after four days of a fast, Sharmila is treated as a criminal (She still is in judicial custody and is produced before courts to extend her incarceration although a relay hunger strike by women activists of the “Save Sharmila Group” crossed 1,000 days recently.) We should ask: Why? Because Hazare was not challenging the legitimacy of the State, he was voicing an anger felt deeply over the corruption that had eaten into the heart of India; he questioned the legitimacy of those who represented the State, not the State itself. Sharmila is going far beyond his limited demand. And challenges the very nature of the State. And that’s why New Delhi or Imphal can’t handle her. I wonder if Anna Hazare, a former soldier, will support her struggle for justice for the tens of thousands who have suffered at the hands of the security forces in the region for over 50 years. In 2004-05, Iwas a member of the Jeevan Reddy Committee set up by the Prime Minister to review the Act: we demanded its repeal. The Centre hasn’t had the courage to disseminate or debate it. Two: the entire mobile phone system in Manipur has collapsed because of a campaign of violence and extortion by armed groups in the valley especially against phone operators and tower guards. Two guards have been shot dead, one in front of his wife and child at night. That’s the other reality of Manipur and the anti-people violence that armed gangs have let loose: what is the State doing about it? With all the weapons at its disposal, all the men under its command, it can’t exercise the authority to run basic services or enable those licensed to conduct their work in safety.Three, dozens of well-reported, well-attended public meetings have taken place in the Manipur valley about the need for a referendum on the issue of involving the public in what is called the “Indo-Manipur conflict”. How will Delhi respond to this? Arresting insurgent leaders doesn’t solve problems: a rational, long-term process needs to be thought through and that is lacking. In Assam, there is some talk of the Indo-Assam conflict but that is limited to acolytes of the United Liberation Front of Asom. In Nagaland, it’s the Indo-Naga issue, which even the state government endorses!Manipur was an ancient kingdom, the last to fall to the British. It even drafted its own constitution and held elections in 1948 before the Manipur Maharaja, under duress, signed the Treaty of Accession. A little bit of history, Delhi should understand, is important to understand the trauma of the periphery if not the legitimacy or otherwise of the State.


  1. I have three demands for these so called defenders of Irom Sharmila Chanu and I have two letters where she names me as her spokesman. First Babloo Loitongbam rescinds the death threats he has imposed upon her via his grip upon her brother on the grounds of honour killing. Second that he allows us the prison visits which she has requested as her right as an Indian citizen guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of India. On her request I will pursue action to ensure that the Longtoibam yuknam respects the constitution of the republic of India. Third that he stops referring to her as public property and begins if only for one manipuri woman to respect her rights as a human being. Those of you familiar with newspeak and the book 1984 all of you, my my what an educated bunch you are, will know that Babloo will happily attend self invited as chief guest at our eventual Heijinpot once AF(SP)A is repealed and I am offering him another opportunity to arrange an accident for the one man who stands up to him during our prison visits. First will Kangla publish this or are you too scared also of the nephew of the DG of Imphal Police. It’s not like I am asking him for a price check on becoming a commando. I am not trying to embarrass the gangster I just want the right to run the gauntlet of his thugs while trying to visit her at her request. I shall return with the backing of the High Court/Supreme Court. These next four weeks I have other matters to attend to with someone also who is become so small less than a worm whom the world ignores.


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