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Two Fasts, Two Responses

THE 72-year-old Gandhian Anna Hazare fasted for barely four days demanding that an anti-corruption law be introduced and he touched a raw nerve throughout the country. Voices of solidarity literally flooded in like a tidal wave from every part of the subcontinent, although he, too, had to face some serious controversies, especially on the question of his reluctance to take on the chief minister of his state, Narendra Modi.

By contrast, another hunger-striker, Irom Sharmila, who has been on a fast for more than 10 years now to demand repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, has not attracted even a small fraction of the same attention in India.

Every television network went gaga over Hazare but has spared barely a thought for Sharmila. This contrast highlights a number of grave issues.

Above all, it demonstrates the deep disparity that exists between the concerns of the North-eastern states and the rest of the country. Who can now say, with any justice, that the vexing nationalistic problems in the North-east have no deeper basis than lack of development? This apart, the emerging scenario of the nation’s concern over Hazare’s hunger strike should have made it clear that at the root of the North-east problem is also an exclusion of the region from the national psyche.

The issue raised by Hazare understandably would, without fail, strike hard at the nation’s conscience, coming as it did immediately after a series of high profile, multi-lakh/ crore-rupee corruption scandals, in particular the Commonwealth Games scam and the 2G allocation scam. There can hence be no doubt that Hazare’s hunger strike was important and deserved all the attention he and his cause received.

Even if an anti-corruption bill drafted not by politicians but by civil bodies — as has been widely criticized — may not prove either feasible or productive, Hazare certainly raised questions that should open up profoundly influential debates amongst various circles, including the corridors of power in New Delhi and the states. One hopes these debates result in the changes envisaged towards ending, or at least drastically limiting, the scourge of official corruption.

But while this cause is honorable and deserves all the solidarity from every quarter, what is painful is the utter all-round neglect of Sharmila’s crusade. The cause of the woman who has come to be fittingly nicknamed “the Iron Lady” is no less. Her’s is as much a moral cause, for she is fighting for the return of a democratic means of addressing social problems and not a military one.

Her method is also no less non-violent and “Gandhian”. Yet even in matters of conscience, it seems the peripheral states are condemned to remain peripheral. Who then can blame them for wanting radical changes in their political predicaments, including severance from the Centre, so that they cease to be on the periphery and become centers unto themselves?

*The opinion is written by Pradip Phanjoubam

*The writer is editor, Imphal Free Press

(Courtesy: The Statesman, India)

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