Senakeithei is a picturesque village enveloped in a tranquil silence. On a nearby hill, its polling station — booth number 44/2 — is as quiet. But something insidious is afoot here.
A large group of smartly dressed young men guard the booth and the booth doors have plainclothes sentries.
It is 3.30 in the afternoon on election day Wednesday. “We can’t let you in. It’s the last bit of voting so there can be no disturbance,” says a polite but officious youth. After much cajoling, The Indian Express team is allowed in.
The room is sparse and only the polling agents of the Naga People’s Front remain. Presiding officer R S Victor says polling agents of the other contestants have left. “There were two polling agents from the Congress and two from BJP but they just put in an appearance and left soon after,” Victor said.
But like polling stations across Ukhrul district, the absence of the Congress and BJP and the overwhelming presence of NPF supporters is evident.
Senakeithei has not voted Wednesday. But according to Victor’s records, once polling comes to an end, of the 1,117 registered voters, 808 voters have voted — recording nearly 75 per cent polling.
Earlier in the day, however, Victor said 457 women and 417 men had voted — 874 votes at 3.30 pm, 808 at 4.13 pm.
One of the 1,117 voters, PCO owner N C Janet tells The Indian express that he has not voted Wednesday. “It’s not only me. None of us have gone to vote. We have stayed at home,” Janet said.
Asked why, he says: “Because of the terrorists. They came to the village yesterday and they spent the entire night here — these people from the NSCN(IM). They told us we either have to vote for the NPF or not vote at all. We decided not to vote.”
Back in the booth, a young man clad in a black T-shirt and a pair of faded jeans stands next to the EVM. As older men approach, he shows them the button next to the rooster — the NPF symbol.
“You see, the reason why he is standing there is because it’s a village and the villagers don’t really know how to use the EVM. So we have kept him there for assistance,” the presiding officer said.
Another election officer, employed to check election slips and strike each voter off, holds a large packet of the slips. The same men stand in line again and again, leave the room and return after a while, and the officer strikes each name off on his list and casts aside a slip as the men approach the EVM machine.
As the 4 pm deadline approaches, all appearance of propriety is thrown to the wind.
The doors are shut and bolted. The queue of returning men is abandoned. And the young man at the booth, with the help of the election officer, proceeds to get in as many NPF votes as possible. He keeps pressing the button down, waiting for the EVM machine to reboot for the next vote.
CRPF security personnel stand outside guarding the booth. “There may be bogus voting here but it is not our duty to check. We are here to maintain security. And the voting has been peaceful here today,” says a jawan.
Senakeithei is representative of villages across the Naga districts of Manipur where rampant booth capturing took place Wednesday.
The BJP has complained to the Election commission alleging that 57 polling stations had been rigged by NSCN(IM) across Ukhrul, Chandel and Senapati districts and have demanded a repoll.
A Congress insider from Ukhrul said NSCN(IM) captured what it felt were the “big booths’’ in Ukhrul district. “Somdal, Kachai, Humei, Ngaingu had all been captured by IM. Somdal is in any case where Muivah hails from. Forget our Congress workers or the workers of any other party, even the villagers were not allowed to enter to vote. Only some villagers were deputed to vote on behalf of entire villages,” the Congress leader alleged.
Somdal, Kachai, Humei and Ngaingu fall under the sub-district of Chigai. The booths captured under Ukhrul sub-district include Pharung, Shimtang, Lamlang and Nungou. Earlier this week, the state election commission had declared 70 polling stations under Chigai and 61 under Ukhrul the most hypersensitive in the Outer Manipur seat.