Irom Sharmila’s failure to get public support in Manipur election is not something to be laughed at and neither is it something to be embarrassed about; rather it reflects a clear picture of how politics work in our country. It clearly shows how politics is being manipulated within the business of money and muscle, identity and culture, leaving no space for gender equality and justice in political domain and thus culminates only into a dirty game.
Her failure has mostly to do with her own identity of being a women and her manifesto not being able to address identity question which is the key elements of North East politics. Among the 268 candidates in Manipur election this year, only 11 candidates were women, including Irom Sharmila. National parties like the BJP and Congress had just two women candidates each – a clear signal of absence of women in the political space (The Wire).
Sharmila’s campaign and fight against AFSPA failed to establish strong rhetoric in Manipur because the discourse of conflict tends to be internalized in Manipur society. Her pain and suffering has not been felt in the same way by the present generation of Manipur. But her struggle to contest in male-dominated politics teaches us many lessons which we need to rethink in future.
When Nagaland is fighting for 33% reservation for women and the participation of women in politics, Irom Sharmila’s failure is a big lesson to rethink the nature of the electoral democratic system in North East India. The women in the North East have to fight with greater force to achieve a significant space within the power structure of electoral politics as it determines the future of women in democracy.
Numbers are important in democracy and women have to struggle for numerical gain in power sharing which would then lead to better gender representation in our society. The case of Manipur’s election and Nagaland’s women reservation has made us realize how politics is still being portrayed as an only men’s business in popular public imagination. However, she did try to break this stereotype of politics as being dirty and a masculine game but her failure proved the world that how dirty politics still is in real.
Nonetheless, Irom Sharmila’s failure is not an end of women politics but is the beginning of women’s struggle for equal participation in so-called “men’s politics”. The courage she showed to stand by herself and fight against injustice and corruption in society would always make her someone to be revered even when the number of vote seemed to prove otherwise. She will always be remembered as the ‘Iron Lady’ and would continue to be an inspiration for women across the world. Let me reiterate that Irom Sharmila’s failure is not her failure but is the failure of the society to recognize her, to recognize her cause for which she has given her entire life to.