New Delhi: More than two months after breaking her nearly 16-year fast and ahead of assembly elections in Manipur, rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila on Tuesday launched a political party in the state.
The decision to launch the party – the People’s Resurgence Justice Alliance (PRJA) – on October 18 was taken “with the intention to commemorate the inauguration of the historic First Manipur Assembly on the same day in 1948.”
Led by Sharmila, the Sharmila4change team – a social media support group formed in support of Sharmila and to concretise her efforts to form the party – commemorated the day at the hall of Johnstone Higher Secondary School in Imphal and thereafter visited the Kangla Fort “to seek blessings”.
According to a note by Sharmila4change, “We as a team believe that the formation of our party should underscore the significance of the birth of democracy in Manipur.”
At a public meeting at the Manipur Press Club on Tuesday, which was organised to announce the formation of the party, Sharmila announced candidates for five constituencies.
While Sharmila will challenge Okram Ibobi Singh, the Congress stalwart and the state chief minister for three consecutive terms, from the Thoubal constituency, Erendro Leichombam, an educationist and entrepreneur, will stand against BJP’s star candidate Khumukcham Joykishan in Thangmeiband constituency.
A resident of Thangmeiband Dewan Leikai, 33-year-old Leichombam has a post graduate degree in economic policy from Harvard University and has been a World Bank Fellow and a consultant with United Nations Development Programme in Dhaka.
Sharmila also named Leichombam as the co-convener of the party. She said she would also simultaneously contest from Khurai, which is her home constituency.
The names of the other two candidates that were announced at the public meeting are of rights activist Najma Phundreimayum – who will contest as a PRJA candidate from Wabagai constituency – and environment activist James Mayengbam, who will contest from the Mourang assembly constituency.
Phundreimayum – a resident of Santhel Mamang Leikai who has worked for over a decade in areas of livelihood, women’s rights, violence and conflict resolution in the state – will be the first Meitei Muslim candidate for any assembly election in the state. She is also the former general secretary of United Manipur Muslim Women Development Organisation.
According to a press note from the party, when being asked about how the party would get the required funds for the elections, Phundreimayum said, “we need to break the culture of buying votes. We will ask people to contribute money to our cause so that we will be accountable to them. We are confident that people will support us.”
Sharmila and the executive members signed the party’s constitution at the public meeting.
“We are a secular party. Our aim is to bring together all the people living in the hill and valley areas of the state to bring a much needed change in Manipur,” Leichombam told The Wire from Imphal. “The next step will be to apply for the party’s recognition by the Election Commission of India (ECI) within the next 30 days.”
On being asked whether there was any preference for a party symbol, the convener said, “We would wait for the ECI to give us a few choices.”
Upon breaking her long fast demanding repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) on August 9, Sharmila expressed her willingness to join electoral politics to achieve her goal and spoke of forming a new regional party that could field candidates to fight the assembly elections slated for early next year. “I want to become the chief minister of Manipur so that I can repeal AFSPA,” she said. She also said she would look for 30 people to join her in her fight as candidates for the next elections.
Sharmila recently visited Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to “know how he fought established political parties and won elections.”