Why is Irom a failure while masses sway to Baba’s charm? [Debate]

For the last one week we have been witness to a flurry of activism that has stunned everyone across the political spectrum. Fasts, crackdown, high voltage drama, some dance steps, and a flood of statements and counter statements from all and sundry scripted a good time for the news channels.
This made the team of nextGen India ponder why Ramdev enjoys so much popularity while a lady who has been on a fast for the last one decade, Irom Sharmila from Manipur, never made it to the headlines. The question was posed to our panelists Rahul Sharma (an MBA student from Bengaluru), Mansingh Nepram (a part time free lancer) and Deepak Joshi (student at IIT Guwahati and an activist) in out Next Gen Debates on 10 June 2011.
Since the inception, the panel was divided on its support to Irom Sharmila. While Mansingh Nepram was skeptical, Deepak and Rahul were in full support for Irom. The debate transcended the discourse on popularity and touched upon subjects like AFSPA, The pre dominant indifference the government and people of rest of India have for North East, militancy and also sexism.
One message was loud and clear from the debate – the media plays a great role in making or breaking a mass leader in an agitation. Ramdev’s PRO helped him gain a lot of attention and the cause he stood for grabbed him eyeballs. Majority of the panel as well as the live audience accepted that media is to share the blame for the indifference shown to Irom. Lack of political will was also cited as a reason for the reluctance of the government to engage Irom in a dialogue.
The question of credibility of the leader was also a point of contention for the panel. Mansingh was all praises for Baba Ramdev because he had a “clean” image, but not much was known about Irom the person. However the moderator pointed out that Ramdev was in possession of undisclosed assets worth thousands of crores.
Rahul stressed that the geographical and language barrier was the main reason why Irom had not been able to touch a chord with the people. Ramdev on the other hand appeared on TV every morning and preached sermons in Hindi, the language of the hinterland of North India, thus gaining followers.
However, the panel was unanimous in brushing aside the speculation that it was the sexist mentality of the people which prevented the masses from joining a movement led by a female. Example of Medha Patkar was cited by all to prove their point.
Apart from the panel, we also got active participation from the members of the audience who raised many pertinent questions throughout the debate which were being put across to the panel from time to time.
In the end, we all agreed that Irom has not received the mass support that Baba commands and the reasons for which are varied. However, her agitation needs to be discussed and brought to the forefront so that government takes cognizance. And, media and civil society should lead the way in taking Irom to the masses.