Irom Sharmila’s decision to end her fast 16 years after it began must be welcomed—not because it is any sort of victory for the Indian state but because she has stated her intention to continue fighting for the revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act by entering mainstream politics. This is the core of truly participatory democracy.
There is a conflict at the heart of the Indian political system. The anti-colonial struggle has left India with a legacy of politics by other means—revolving around the moral high ground seized by means outside the framework of democratic politics. This was understandable in the context of the freedom movement. But in the current context, it taints Indian politics; if it is used for legitimate grievances, it is also used for illegitimate ones. As B.R. Ambedkar famously said in 1949, “These (unconstitutional methods) are nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us”.