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AFSPA is a political issue, not human rights; will fight it politically: Irom Sharmila

After 16 years of fast, human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila finally realised that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is a political rather than a human rights issue.

On Tuesday, she formally launched her political party — the Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) at Imphal’s Manipur Press Club to contest the upcoming Assemble elections and give a tough time to mainstream political parties. Along with her own candidature from hometown Khurai, Irom introduced three other candidates, including social activist Najma Phundreimayum, who will be the first Meitei Muslim to contest the Assembly election in Manipur.

The party, which was announced by Sharmila along with Sharmila4change, a coalition that was formed after she gave up her 16-year-long fast against the repeal of the AFSPA two months ago.

“I am doing this because I love Manipur more than anything. For 16 years, the government isolated me by keeping me away from the people of my own state. I wanted to connect with the people and be a part of the movement with them. Now I can work to repeal AFSPA, to restore justice to the Manipuri society and stem the violence,” Irom told DNA over the phone. “AFSPA is not just a human rights issue; it is a political issue and I will fight it politically.”

Party convenor Erendro Leichombam said that the party aims to field at least 20 candidates in the coming elections. While James Mayengbam will fight the elections from Mourang constituency, Najma will be fielded from Wabagai. Erendro will contest the elections from Thangmeiband.

“Our party’s ideology is to push for a people’s resurgence. We have stood for the elections so that the new generation of Manipuris can know about their past. This is crucial because the Manipuri identity is corrupted by shrewd politicians,” said Erendro, adding that the party will work towards rejecting violence and corruption.

Sharmila’s political step came after two months of speculation, during which several parties invited her to join them. A close aide, who resides in Delhi, said that invitations had come from the BJP, the JD(U) and AAP.

However, Irom’s former aides Babloo Loitongbam, her brother Irom Singhajit, Nandini Thokchom, were visibly missing from the press conference.

“We want Irom to continue with her struggle against AFSPA, but we have differences of opinions with her. Irom’s popularity is such that she does not even need to campaign here,” said Nandini.

Irom, on her part, spoke of the overwhelming support that the people of the state have bestowed on her. “I have been misunderstood on many grounds, many people in my state think that I am hankering after power. My sole intention when I quit my fast was to come in the midst of the people to fight for them,” she said.

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