Failing Indian Gandhiism: after 16 years of struggle, Irom Sharmila would now end hunger strike

By Dr. Abdul Ruff

Indian government has been insensitive to many of problems of common men and concerning India’s real prestige. Indian rulers, cutting across the color of their politics, just crush any movement that is not promoting their interests. Nonviolent agitations also do make any difference to their political and profit objectives. May be as a game or joke, or by mistake India annexed Kashmir but once it has done it, now Indian regime does not allow any criticism of Indian state terror operations in Kashmir. That is Indian petrified mindset.

For 16 years, Irom Sharmila was on a hunger strike in Manipur in North Eastern India against the imposition of the dreadful Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and demanding the scrapping of draconian military laws that crippled the ordinary life of the state as people always feel they are being chased by the state. A highly disappointed Irom Sharmila, who used Gandhian means of peaceful protest to get justice for her state from central government , has failed to achieve e the chief objective so far and has announced on July 25 her decision to end her long years on hunger strike w.e.f. August 10. The activist said that she no longer believed that her protest would motivate the state into scrapping the AFSPA. However, the fight to eliminate AFSPA will go on. What will change is the method of struggle. The activist said she would fight elections in Manipur to take forward the struggle against AFSPA.

Irom Sharmila said she hoped that her peaceful and torturous act of protest and self-denial would push the state towards withdrawing the draconian AFSPA from Manipur. Since November 2000 — when soldiers from the Assam Rifles shot dead 10 civilians, Sharmila has been on an indefinite fast, refusing to eat or drink. Instead of saving her life by making an effort to scrap the deadly laws, Indian government (Both Congress and BJP) charged her with attempt to commit suicide Charged with attempting suicide, the activist has been repeatedly arrested, detained and force-fed through nasal tubes. But she has continued on the difficult path of protest even when the state has shown no signs of relenting.

On July 25, Irom Sharmila announced her decision to end her long years on hunger strike on 9 August. The activist said that she no longer believed that her protest would motivate the state into scrapping the AFSPA. However, the fight to eliminate AFSPA will go on. What will change is the method of struggle. The activist said she would fight elections in Manipur to take forward the struggle against AFSPA. Significantly, Sharmila’s decision draws attention to the fundamental characteristics that define the Indian State when it comes to dealing with such protests. The Indian State plays mischief, appears to be impervious to essentially peaceful acts of resistance even when protesters turn violence upon themselves rather than their adversaries. In the face of the state’s consistent refusal to seriously engage with peaceful resistance, hunger strikes can appear to be both naïve and flawed as a strategy of protest.

Time and again, it has been evident that the state ignores peaceful protests. The paradox, however, is that the very same state which turns a blind eye to nonviolent resistance, nevertheless continually insists that all protesters adopt peaceful and not confrontational methods of agitation. In fact, protesters transgressing conventional forms of dissent are routinely labeled “anarchists” by the state; or denounced as saboteurs who create chaos and violence in the political and social order.

The objective reality is that it is aggressive — or even violent — forms of protest that propel the state to take serious notice of the causes that foment such resistance. Nonviolent agitations are always relegated to the background. For instance, in 2012, the Madhya Pradesh state government ignored hundreds of farmers who submerged themselves neck-deep in water for 17 long days. Through their jal Satyagraha, villagers were protesting the construction of a dam that was going to inundate their lands.

Further back in history, the peaceful protests led by Gandhian activist Medha Patkar (from the Narmada Bachao Andolan), also came to naught. That movement aimed against the construction of big dams on the Narmada River. The project threatened to displace large numbers of people and submerge thousands of acres of lands underwater. The governments in the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh — as well as at the Centre — refused to back down.

Social activist Anna Hazare undertook a fast until death for an assurance of Jan Lokpal in order to bring every big official into the purview of the system to curb rampant corruption of Congress party led government. But Hazare could not achieve that and removed his Gandhian cap to force the Congress government to accept his demand and eventually the Manmohan regime had to use a trick to oust him from the fasting site. As the UPA government felt losing its ground to Anna Hazare and BJP, Sonia-Manmohan sent a minister to promise action on Lokpal just as a usual ploy. They did not know that they were losing power to Kejriwal-Hazare movement that would benefit the BJP waiting in the wings.

There is of course a strong case to be made for withdrawing the AFSPA in Manipur (and other parts of India) where — for six decades — it has functioned as a repressive law that authorizes excesses. Serious concerns about its continuation in the state have been expressed not just by human rights activists but also the apex court of the country. Recently, hearing petitions that demanded a probe into 1,528 deaths in counterinsurgency operations in Manipur, the Supreme Court observed that the immunity the AFSPA offers to the security forces — using excessive force “even to the extent of causing death” — is not invincible.

If one compares these forms of resistance — that the Indian State deems ‘acceptable’ — to the tactics of the Maoists or separatist groups in Kashmir, the contrast becomes even clearer. In both the latter cases, whatever one thinks of the politics of the groups involved, there is little doubt that their cause has been ‘tabled’ on the national agenda in a visible manner. It seems then, that the Indian State (parties cutting across political lines) prefers nonviolent protest precisely because it can ignore such actions and let the protesters exhaust themselves. Now, as Irom Sharmila ends her hunger strike and enters electoral (or even other forms of politics,) her equation with the State is likely to drastically change. Although electoral politics is one method by which the state likes to co-opt all opposition voices into the same system, this isn’t always the case. As the anti-corruption movement that began under Anna Hazare and culminated in the present expansion of the Aam Aadmi Party across the country shows, sometimes not playing by the rules of the game brings its own rewards.

Indian government seeks only violent movements that could be put down by the military and police forces and claim victory abroad over domestic problems. .Though the government is sworn by Gandhian philosophy and ideas and ideals theoretically in practice, it opposes any Gandhian margs (directions and routes).

India cannot tolerate any type of protests, Gandhian inclusive, by anybody to achieve their objective against the government or its draconian laws or any other matter. Irom Sharmila’s non-violent struggle may have failed but her ideas, ideals and goals have not been defeated once for all, however.

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Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is an independent analyst; columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics; expert on Mideast affairs, chronicler of foreign occupations & freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.); Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA); commentator on world affairs & sport fixings, former university teacher and author of eBooks/books

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