Imphal: Manipur's 'Iron Lady' Irom Sharmila broke her 16-year-long fast on Tuesday, and said she wanted to become the Chief Minister of Manipur, to continue her fight against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the state.
"I want to be the CM of Manipur," Sharmila said, breaking down as she addressed the media after breaking her fast. Sharmila indicated that she wanted to end the rule of CM Okram Ibobi Singh in the state and would bring together 'around 20 Independents' and contest elections to achieve the same.
Justifying her decision to enter politics, an emotional Sharmila said, "I want to join politics as I've been called the Iron Lady of Manipur, and I want to live up to that name. I don't understand why some radical groups are against me wanting to get into politics."
"I don't want to be seen as an icon, just as an equal human being with all the feelings of human beings," she said. She also refused the need for security cover.
Asked about the threats to her life, the Iron Lady said, "Let them kill me the way people killed Mahatma Gandhi accusing him of being anti-Hindu…or the way they killed Jesus Christ."
On her personal life, especially her decision to marry, Sharmila said it was a personal matter.
Controversially, Sharmila also said she supported the right of Kashmiris to self-determination.
Sharmila got bail on Tuesday from a court in Imphal after she promised the magistrate to break her 16-year-old fast against AFSPA. "The court examined two witnesses. She has now got bail on personal bond of Rs 10,000," Sharmila's lawyer L Rebada Devi told reporters in Imphal.
Her counsel said during the hearing the court examined two witnesses and fixed August 23 as the next date of hearing.
A fortnight ago, she had announced that she will break her fast on August 9, join politics and also get married. "I have been fasting for the past 16 years, I am ending my fast today. I want to try a different agitation now," Sharmila told the media outside the courtroom today. She said she will get AFSPA repealed once she wins the elections.
During the hearing, her lawyer said Sharmila appealed before the court to set her free because she wants to break her fast.
The iconic rights activist was being forcibly fed through a nasal tube since 2000 to keep her alive at a prison-turned-hospital in Imphal.
Doctors attending Sharmila said she might have to be kept on a liquid diet for the next few days as her body might not be able to digest solid food all of a sudden. "A person who has not eaten solid food for 16 years cannot start it suddenly. She has to start slowly and gradually in small quantities," they said.
"Her condition is okay as she has been getting all nutrients. She can walk also," Dr Laishram Deben, director of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital, said.
Sharmila has already got offers from BJP and the Congress to join their respective parties.
The Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday said that it will welcome activist Sharmila if she wants to join the saffron party. BJP leader KH Joykishan said that Sharmila contesting elections from a BJP ticket is a decision which is to be considered by the central leadership of the party. "The BJP welcomes everyone. if she wants to join our party we will not deny her admission. But regarding tickets we cannot assure as it is a decision of the Central leadership," said Joykishan.
The Congress too hinted that the grand old party will welcome the iron lady of Manipur, if she wishes to join the political outfit. Manipur Congress president TN Haokip hailed Sharmila's decision to contest elections and said that the latter is a determined person who will sticks by her commitments. "We know she is a very determined and committed person. Once she takes a decision she will stand by it. Her becoming a part of Congress is a decision of the election committee. We will welcome her if she wishes to join our party," Haokip said.
However, Sharmila has also received threats from radical groups in the state if she contests elections and marries a non-Manipuri.
The secessionist group 'Alliance for Socialist Unity Kangleipak' on August 5 said that "some former revolutionary leaders were assassinated" after moving away from the cause and participating in public life. “All those who joined electoral politics did so knowing well that it was a dead-end,” ASUK chairman N Oken and vice-chairman Ksh Lab Meitei said in a statement last week.
The group demands sovereign Manipur. Two other secessionist groups too have asked Sharmila to continue the fast.
Sharmila's struggle has been the nucleus of all protests against AFSPA in Manipur and the neighbouring north-eastern states.
On November 2, 2000, an Assam Rifles battalion had allegedly killed 10 civilians in a village near Imphal. Three days later, Sharmila embarked on her fast demanding revocation of AFSPA, which allows security men to even kill a person on suspicion without the fear of facing a trial in court.