A question often is asked, sometimes with an air of mischievous rhetoric, whether Sharmila is being pushed into what she is doing by vested interests, and if not this, then by public expectations. The implication is, she is unable to exercise her free will to decide on how or whether her seemingly futile protest should proceed any further. Further, another implied allegation is also Sharmila has ceased to be of any great concern for the people of Manipur by and large, which is why her protest is all the more doomed to be in a limbo that it seems to be in at the moment. These are serious thoughts or charges if you like. The question is, what is the volitional element in Sharmila’s continued fast? Is she responding to public expectations only or is she driven by a faith in her own action? While there should be no doubt the latter is there predominantly, it is necessary to dispel some of the doubts raised. The answer could come in the form of a question. Is there anybody whose action is not in some ways or other a response to public expectations?
Students of psychology would tell us there is nobody. These expectations are not always overt. They have been ingrained into the social consciousness so deeply that much of them come naturally to all of us without the need for making conscious choices. A few very basic questions should be illuminating. Why do we fear not doing well in studies? Why do we not walk around naked in public? The answer is, because such behaviours would not be approved by the society. Much of our social behaviours are thus moderated by this ever present “Superego” in Freudian terms. In a crux, Freud’s personality dynamics becomes an interplay of three powerful forces within the human psyche: the infantile “Id”, the parental “superego” and the rational “ego”. “Id” is thus about inborn, primitive, animal desires, appetites and instincts. The “Superego” controls and moderates (or civilises) the “Id”, sometimes excessively and to the detriment of the health of the individual. It is thus the rational “Ego” which must negotiate between these two. This personality dynamic would be the fuel behind Sharmila’s decisions, conscious or subconscious, as it is for everybody else. The only difference is, Sharmila has stepped out of private life boldly and is in the public domain in a radical way, and hence, we would argue here is a case of an enviable success of the “Ego” to rein in the “Id” and the “Superego”. The “Superego” which normally should have determined her public behaviour and decisions, have been rationalise successfully by her powerful “Ego” to convert it into a magnanimous sense of public duty. This being the case, it is only natural the pressure of expectations, not just public expectations but her own as well, would be much more on her. It is a truism that people do expect much more from public figures than from the ordinary man or woman on the street, and in our opinion, nobody in the state is as much a selfless public figure as Sharmila has come to be.
The next question is, why do people expect another to accomplish what is also essentially their aspiration? Why hasn’t there been many more stepping forward to join Sharmila’s style of protest? These questions deserve another rhetorical answer as well. If everybody were to take care of their own problems, or were to be capable of taking care of all their own problems, and this ability in collective were to be the solution to social problems, why would there have been any need for leaders at all? Eric Fromm’s book “Escape from Freedom” is dedicated to answering this question. Freedom can get terrifying for many if not most, and so taking important decisions on which crucially hangs the fate of individuals and society, independently, is not easy. This is where the role of inspirational leadership comes in. These strong men and women would become the centres where the ordinary men and women surrender their freedoms to make important decisions. And who can deny Sharmila is an inspirational leader who has made sacrifices nobody can or has ever made. But Fromm’s caution is, although this has nothing remotely to do with Sharmila’s case, when the ordinary men and women get too insecure, they begin to surrender more and more of their freedom to tough leaders who they entrust to deliver them from the source of their insecurities. Such a condition he says is the ground on which the most brutal dictatorships have spawned. Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, all shared this social dynamics. Sharmila’s case is a radical departure from this but there is an interesting parallel. While there can be no argument she is an inspirational leader let those who love her not leave her to bear all the burdens alone. Nobody can emulate what she is doing, but let it not be forgotten everybody who would benefit from her cause has a duty to also contribute to take forward what she is fighting for.