February 27, 2017: The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act — the AFSPA — is not the medicine for militancy and it is there to “extract resources” from Manipur, Irom Sharmila’s party PRJA has said. To drive home the point, the Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) said that there were only four insurgent groups when the draconian AFSPA was introduced in Manipur in the 1980s and the number has gone up to 32 since.
The PRJA, which was formed by Sharmila after she ended her 16-year-long hunger strike against the AFSPA in August last year, is making its electoral debut in this Assembly polls, fielding candidates in three of the state’s 60 seats. “The AFSPA is not about militancy and counter-insurgency. It is something beyond that. To deal with militancy and counter-insurgency, you may need laws and programmes but the AFSPA is not one of them.
“In the 1980s when the AFSPA was introduced in Manipur, there were only four insurgent groups and in 2016 there were more than 32 groups reported… The AFSPA is not the medicine for militancy. It has clearly multiplied the disease. The AFSPA is there to extract resources from Manipur,” PRJA convener Erendro Leichombam said in an email interview to PTI.
He said that his party would work towards the removal of the Act, which gives sweeping powers and immunity to the army in conflict-ridden areas, from Manipur first and “then move Parliament to repeal it from all places across India”.
Asked whether the electoral fight this time was “symbolic”, the 33-year-old leader said, “Absolutely not. I think one PRJA MLA is worth 60 other MLAs. We are going to create so much ruckus inside the Assembly and expose the lies that people are going to ask for more.” Asked whether the party would support either the Congress of the BJP in case of a hung verdict, Leichombam just said, “We are not going to ally with the Congress.”
On the possibility of a future alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in view of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s appreciation of Sharmila, he said, “We are a very new party, we are barely five months old. We want to make sure we establish our own identity and foundation and once we are assured of the party strength, only after that we will be looking at an alliance.”
Besides removal of the AFSPA, the nascent party is fighting the election on the planks of ending corruption, reducing unemployment, implementing Lokayukta, and ensuring a harmonious and inclusive Manipur. Manipur is going to polls in two phases on March 4 and March 8 and the counting will be held on March 11. The Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress dispensation has been in power in Manipur since 2002.
Asked about the party’s take on the economic blockade by the United Naga Council and its impact to the economy of the state, he said, “Every day, people are struggling because of the economic blockade. The Congress and the BJP are in power in the state and at the Centre, respectively. It is their job to resolve this at the earliest but they are just taking political mileage out of this.