Manipur polls: Meet the team shaping Irom Sharmila’s campaign

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Mostly in their 30’s, these young men and women have taken up an enormous social experiment – to bring about change in the stagnant political discourse of strife-torn Manipur.


A Harvard graduate, a former associate of Prashant Kishor and a television journalist – these three make the core team that is managing Irom Sharmila’s political campaign for the upcoming Manipur state elections.

Mostly in their 30’s, these young men and women have taken up an enormous social experiment – to bring about change in the stagnant political discourse of strife-torn Manipur.

During her 16-year long hunger strike demanding repealing of the draconian Armed Forces Special Power’s Act (AFSPA) from Manipur, Irom Sharmila has gained an iconic status across the globe – revered almost as a deity in her homeland.

But things took a dramatic change in August 2016 when Sharmila decided to change her course. She broke her fast only to continue her struggle against AFSPA through a new strategy – by entering politics.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. For 33-year-old Erendro Leichombam, time is ripe to shake-up the political system in Manipur. Convener of Sharmila’s party Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), Erendro came back to Manipur to help her bring about that very change.
  2. For close to a decade Erendro has worked in the United States, raising awareness about issues plaguing Manipur like AFSPA though an advocacy group – the Manipur International Centre. With barely any financial or logistical backing, the task is cut out for PRJA which is completely dependent on volunteers for its campaign. To provide the much needed expertise, two former aides of master poll strategist Prashant Kishor has come on board to help Sharmila’s party.
  3. Anand Mangnale (29) from Maharashtra has been camping in Imphal for team PRJA for the past few months. After completing his Masters in Media Campaigning and Social Change from England, Anand had worked extensively with Prashant Kishor’s IPAC planning the Congress party’s strategy in the recently concluded Punjab assembly polls.
  4. However, he quit IPAC over differences with Kishor and manages the campaign for Sharmila. “I wanted to run a campaign focusing on the drug menace in Punjab but that did not happen so I got disillusioned and left,” he says. For him, Sharmila is unique because she has been consistent in her attempt to change something for 16 long years. “She has changed just her strategy and with my expertise I feel I can contribute to her campaign,” he said.
  5. Anand says working with Kishor was just like any other job, a political public relations campaign where one got paid to do it. “I wasn’t happy with it. I wanted to do something which makes meaningful difference on the ground,” he said.
  6. For 30-year old Geetika Sehmay, a television journalist from New Delhi, the motivation was much more personal. “My mother was born and raised in Manipur. I knew about the state of affairs here for long. Sharmila’s trying to change that and I felt it was important for me to support her endeavour,” she says.
    Anand’s comrade-in-arms at IPAC, Geetika is using her network with journalists across the country to help provide media coverage for Sharmila’s campaign.
  7. For now, these young men and women from such diverse backgrounds have united to put together a unique political campaign targeting the youth in Manipur. But will it have any impact at all? Wait till March 11 for the results.

Source: India Today

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