Imphal: In India, personal lives of politicians rarely become a poll issue. But in Manipur, activist Irom Sharmila's relationship with Desmond Coutinho, a Goa-born British citizen, is not only talked about, it may even cost her votes, fear her supporters.
Irom Sharmila, who ended an iconic 16-year-long fast in August, is debuting in politics by contesting from Thoubal constituency in polls this week in Manipur.
One of her friends recently urged Mr Coutinho, who is in Ireland, to persuade her not to contest the election believing it would take her away from her cause. His reaction on Facebook was so offensive that Irom Sharmila had to say sorry.
Yambem Laba, a human rights activist, said, "Her host made the request so that Irom Sharmila can remain a Mother Teresa-like figure for Manipur. Desmond replied in the most unparliamentary language to describe him, me and others. We told Irom Sharmila she must apologise. While doing so, she blurted out she will marry him straight after the elections. That's may mean more trouble for her. Few people like the man."
Meira Paibi, a powerful women's organization that that was once her biggest supporter, suspects that Mr Coutinho made Irom Sharmila end her fast and enter politics.
Ima Sananabi Devi, a senior member of Meira Paibi, said, "Coutinho and some behind-the-scene politicians may have influenced her. Coutinho may be a spy."
The women had actually pushed him around when he once came to Imphal to meet Irom Sharmila during her one of her court appearances.
Irom Sharmila is furious at the intrusion into her private life and for being forced to say sorry for Coutinho. She said, "I was compelled to say sorry...Why you are so interested in my personal life? Everyone must have their own privacy. I should not be turned into just an icon. I am human."
Asked about her decision to marry Mr Coutinho, she replied, "It is natural, it is no one else's business. For me it is compulsory also... being natural."
After her long fast for human rights, this 44-year-old has a right to a private life. But for now, as she challenges Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in the polls, the spotlight remains.