Boycott call by Mizo NGOs over ‘special treatment’ to Bru voters could derail Lok Sabha polls in Mizoram
Upset over the alleged special treatment to Bru voters, the powerful NGO Coordination Committee (NCC) in Mizoram has given a call to boycott the Lok Sabha election and assembly by-polls in the state.
Voting for the lone Lok Sabha seat in Mizoram and by-election to the Aizawl West-1 assembly seat will take place on April 11. But the boycott call threatens to derail the poll process.
On Monday, NCC announced an indefinite strike across the state from April 8 in protest against the Election Commission’s decision to set up special polling booths at Kanhmun on the Mizoram-Tripura border for Bru voters, settled in Tripura.
“We have two demands, instead of special booths, the Bru voters should cast their votes at polling booths in Mizoram where their names are listed and there should be no transportation and other arrangements made for them,” said Lalhmachhuana, secretary NCC.
Nearly 35,000 Brus, who fled three districts in Mizoram in 1997 following riots, are settled in six relief camps in Tripura. Nearly 12,000 of them are eligible to cast vote.
The NCC, which comprises several NGOs, civil society groups and student organisations, had raised the issue in the 2014 general elections and also ahead of the last year’s assembly polls.
In 2014, NCC had called a 72-hour strike against the poll body’s proposal to set up special booths for Bru voters in their relief camps in Tripura. Last year, protests by NCC against chief electoral officer SB Shashank’s alleged favouritism of Bru voters forced the commission to remove the officer from his post.
During the last assembly polls, 15 polling booths were set up at Kanhmun where over 6,000 of eligible Bru voters, who were brought from their relief camps in state-provided vehicles, cast their votes. The same provision was to be followed this time.
“Why is the EC giving special treatment to Bru voters? We won’t allow it this time. Our volunteers will prevent movement of poll machinery and personnel and also stop voters from casting the ballot,” Lalhmachhuana said.
Mizoram chief electoral officer Ashish Kundra termed the NCC decision as unfortunate and hoped that the issue would get resolved through talks over the next few days and the poll process get completed without a glitch.
“The NCC decision is unfortunate. I am meeting the chief secretary to try and resolve the issue through dialogues with all stakeholders. The EC has also been apprised of the development. We want voters to be able to exercise their democratic right,” Kundra said.
The Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), which represents Bru refugees settled in Tripura, said if special booths are not provided, it might not be possible for them to cast their vote.
“We asked the EC to set up special booths at Kanhmun and arrange for transportation as it is difficult for pregnant women, lactating mothers and elderly to travel all the way from the relief camps and cast vote in polling booths inside Mizoram,” said MBDPF general secretary Bruno Msha.
“In view of the NCC’s latest decision, we would request the EC to step up security measures at the polling booths in Kanhmun or else we might not be able to cast our votes,” he added.