Organisations representing displaced Bru people living in relief camps in Tripura on Sunday said that they stand by their demand of having polling booths for the upcoming elections in their camps.
On Friday, a high-level team from the Election Commission (EC), led by Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, met representatives of civil society groups in Mizoram and an official announcement is awaited on the setting up of voting booths for the displaced Brus — displaced from Mizoram due to ethnic clashes about 21 years ago.
Mizoram’s civil society groups have insisted that no electoral process should be conducted outside the state while Brus maintain that they want to cast their votes in booths at the relief camps.
T Laldingliana, president of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Coordination Committee (MBDPCC), told The Indian Express, “We are eager to cast our votes. But we want to do it here, in the relief camps. We are not disenfranchised people. Why so much trouble over us voting?”
There are over 11,000 registered voters among the 30,000-odd Bru people living in camps in Tripura and they are at the centre of a controversy which has led to demands of the removal of the Mizoram chief electoral officer (CEO) S B Shashank. The EC on Saturday asked the Mizoram government to send a panel of names for the post of CEO.
Earlier, Shashank had complained to the EC of “direct interference” by the state in the preparation for polls, following which the Commission ordered removal of Mizoram Principal Secretary (Home Department) L Chuaungo.
Chuaungo’s removal irked the state government, political parties and civil society groups of the state. On Monday, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding Shashank’s removal.
In his complaint, Shashank had alleged insensitivity on the part of the state regarding voting rights of the displaced Bru community living in relief camps in Tripura, and referred to the “active role” played by Chuaungo in the revision of electoral rolls and deployment of central security forces.
Laldingliana, who hails from Lunglei district of Mizoram, said that for many, travelling from the relief camps to their native villages will take at least two days. “To reach my village, if I start at 7am today from the relief camp, I will reach tomorrow at 7am.”
“In 2003 and 2013, polling booths were set up in our camps. Why can’t it be done now?”
Civil society groups, however, refer to an April 7, 2014 letter from the EC telling the then CEO Mizoram that during “future elections” to the Lok Sabha and the state Assembly, provision would be made for Bru voters to cast their votes within the state of Mizoram.
A leader of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), who requested not to be named, said that if the EC decides that the Brus have to vote in Mizoram, it will lead to “very less turnout”.
“Do they expect everyone to travel so far to cast their votes? If someone belongs to Mamit district, it is a matter of one day. If someone is from an interior area in Lunglei, then it can take two days to reach and another to cast the vote, then another two days to return. Moreover, there is an apprehension regarding law and order problem too if we go to vote in Mizoram,” the leader told The Indian Express.
However, in his letter to Home Minister Rajnath Singh dated November 3, Chief minister Lal Thanhawla wrote, “The Civil Society does not take it lightly and we in government also fully supported their long standing demand that the Brus now living in Tripura Transit Camps should come and cast their votes inside Mizoram like every other Mizo do from outside the state at the time of elections. And that elaborate arrangements have been made both by the Centre and the state governments need no further explanation.”
Lal Thanhawla in his letter to the Home Minister also wrote that “vested interests” in Tripura camps were dissuading people from repatriating. “You are fully aware that Mizos themselves under years of isolation are trying to identify themselves with the rest of India and any move in this regard will only further alienate the Mizo sentiments,” he wrote.
The MBDPF leader quoted above added, “We will decide after the EC takes the final decision. We have already sent our memorandum to them, demanding polling booths in camps.”