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Manipur: Voters displaced due to violence may miss voting in LS polls

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Manipur: Voters displaced due to violence may miss voting in LS polls

Imphal/Aizawl, April 12 (Ajit Weekly News) Despite the Election Commission’s all-out efforts to increase voting turnout in the 18th Lok Sabha polls, several thousand voters, mostly tribals, would miss to cast their vote in Manipur as they took shelter in neighbouring Mizoram and other states after the violence broke out in Manipur.

The national average turnout in the 17th Lok Sabha election in 2019 was 67.40 per cent.

Over 12,000 people belonging to Kuki-Zomi communities in different phases took shelter in Mizoram and a large number of people of the tribal community shifted to other states after the ethnic violence broke out in Manipur on May 3 last year.

The Election Officials in Manipur and Mizoram separately said that they have yet to get any directions from the Election Commission to make arrangements for the voting of the tribals sheltered outside Manipur.

“The people who took shelter outside Manipur are voters of the state but there are no specific records with the election authorities who are now staying where. Eligible voters among the displaced people can come back to Manipur and cast their votes in their notified areas,” an election official told Ajit Weekly News.

Over 24,500 eligible voters, now sheltered in over 300 relief camps inside Manipur due to ethnic violence in the state, would exercise their franchise at 94 special polling stations in the two-phase elections for the state’s two Lok Sabha seats, as directed by the Election Commission.

The 94 special polling stations will be set up in the relief camps in 10 of the state’s 16 districts and many of the displaced voters would cast their votes in their original places of residence, he said.

The displaced — 12,000 people — taking shelter in different districts in Mizoram are unlikely to go to Manipur to cast votes.

John Zo, leader of a group of displaced tribals lodged at a Mizoram government building at Falkland near Aizawl said that to go to Churachandpur (Kuki-Zomi dominated areas) from Mizoram would cost at least Rs 5,000 besides the travelling time of 13 to 14 hours.

“If the concerned authorities do not make any arrangement for our transportation from Mizoram to Manipur, we will not be able to vote,” John Zo said.

He said at least 2,000 to 2,500 among the displaced people living in Mizoram are eligible voters of Manipur.

The displaced Kuki-Zomi tribals are staying in government buildings, rented and relatives’ houses in Mizoram.

“The Mizoram government has been providing us with food and medicines. Several local NGOs, Young Mizo Association (YMA) and various churches are now helping us a lot,” the tribal leader said.

A senior election official in the Mizoram capital Aizawl clarified that any arrangements for the displaced persons, currently seeking refuge in Mizoram, to vote would be the responsibility of the Manipur government, not the Mizoram authority.

Referring to the displaced 38,072 Reang people, who fled Mizoram and took shelter in neighbouring Tripura in 1997 due to ethnic troubles, the official said that arrangements for the participation of the Reang tribal voters in Mizoram elections were facilitated until the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

These arrangements were made in compliance with the directives of the Election Commission and they cast their votes through postal ballots and special polling stations set up along the Mizoram-Tripura inter-state border villages.

However, following a quadripartite agreement signed on January 16, 2020, between the Central government, the state governments of Mizoram and Tripura, and refugee leaders, decisions had been taken for the permanent settlement of Reang migrants in Tripura and those unwilling could return to Mizoram.

Accordingly, the Reang migrants enrolled their names in the electoral lists of Tripura.

Meanwhile, ten tribal Manipur MLAs, belonging to the Kuki-Zomi-Hmar community, had earlier urged the Election Commission to make special arrangements for voting for displaced tribals scattered in different parts of the country including Mizoram after the ethnic violence broke out in the state on May 3 last year.

Ten legislators included seven BJP lawmakers.

In a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, the ten MLAs said that the eligible voters among some 50,000 displaced Kuki-Zomi-Hmar people living outside Manipur should be allowed to cast their votes using Aadhaar cards and other valid documents as many of them would have lost their voter identity cards.

Of Manipur’s two Lok Sabha seats, polling would be held in the Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency in the first phase of polling on April 19, and Outer Manipur (reserved for tribals) would go to polls in two phases – April 19 and April 26.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

–Ajit Weekly News


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