Elections in the Northeast are like a carnival. The voter turnout of 92% — not the final tally — in Tripura on Thursday has reaffirmed this.
There was a time when myriad militant outfits opposed to an ‘Indian’ democratic exercise forced many voters indoors. But ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) in July 1997 and several other groups subsequently ensured a reign of relative peace.
In certain pockets militants continued to meddle with the electoral process, but voting by and large became fashionable in the past decade. Nagaland, for instance, recorded 87.65% voting in 2003 though it dipped to 85% in 2008.
“One of the reasons why the turnout in Tripura is high is because women here are highly motivated. And this is possible only when there is peace and resultant development,” said CPM secretary Bijan Dhar in state capital Agartala.
Tripura recorded 91.3% polling in 2008 and 84.45% in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls compared to 78.71% in 2003.
This was attributed to the peace process with two outfits - All Tripura Tiger Force and National Liberation Front of Tripura - and rehabilitation of their cadres.
But even a ‘low’ of 78.71% is higher by the standards in the rest of the country, considered more politically mature than the Northeast. Another factor is the size of the constituencies.
“The number of voters in many seats average 10,000 and most people there know each other. So the day of voting turns out to be a get-together,” said Guwahati-based analyst P Rajguru.
This, he added, sometimes overrides the militancy threat. Manipur, where at least seven rebel groups are active, recorded 85% voting in the 2012 assembly election.
Meghalaya, where militancy arrived later than the other north-eastern states, saw 75% voting in 2008, up from 70.38% in 2003.
By contrast, Mizoram, an ‘island of peace’ since the mid-1980s, has had a lower voter turnout of 78.58% in the 2003 assembly election.
The percentage rose marginally to 78.78 in 2008.