As Mizoram goes to polls on Thursday, Bru voters on both sides of the Tripura-Mizoram state boundary are divided on who they will vote for. The displaced Bru voters living in camps in Tripura for the last 22 years prefer MNF, while those who have gone back to Mizoram seem to be banking on the Congress this time.
Six candidates are in the poll fray for Mizoram’s lone Lok Sabha constituency (ST reserved) with 7.84 lakh voters registered in 1,175 polling stations. Fifteen special polling stations have been set up in set up at the Tripura-Mizoram border village of Kanhmun for the 12,000-odd Bru voters. The Election Commission of India had earlier instructed Mizoram to make special arrangements for transportation, safety and other necessary support of Bru voters sheltered in six relief camps of North Tripura.
Pu C. Lalrosanga, former Indian Broadcasting Programme Service (IBPS) officer and retired DG of Doordarshan, is contesting as Mizo National Front (MNF) candidate from Mizoram this year. The Congress party and Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM), both key opposition parties have fielded Lalnghinglova Hmar, a young sports journalist as their candidate. Meanwhile, veteran Chakma leader Nirupam Chakma is contesting with a BJP ticket. There are few other independent candidates like Lalthlamuani, who is the only woman candidate contesting in Lok Sabha polls from Mizoram this year.
However, Bru voters are divided in their voting choice between Congress-ZPM alliance and the MNF. The displaced Brus living in Tripura feel voting MNF will be the right choice since their repatriation and resettlement still hangs in balance and the MNF government at Mizoram is going to call the shots once the elections are over.
However, those who were already repatriated and are living in Mizoram for the last 4-5 years are dejected about the performance of MNF.
MNF replaced Congress after the assembly polls last year. Since then, most government benefits like NLUP have stopped. MG NREGS work has come down as well and wages are pending for over three months.
Recognised as a primitive tribal group, Brus are originally inhabitants of Mizoram and some parts of Tripura. Over 37,000 Brus fled Mamit, Kolasib, Lunglei districts of Mizoram during ethnic turmoils in 1997. Seven thousand returned to Mizoram in eight phases of repatriation till date but more came over in 2009 during renewed tension. Today, 32,000 odd Brus live in six relief camps in North Tripura district. About 11,941 among them remain voters of Mizoram and will cast votes at Kahnmun in Mizoram, right across the inter-state boundary on Thursday morning.
Apeto Sawibunga, a leader of displaced Brus living in Tripura, says MNF is the ruling party of Mizoram now and will rule for next five years. “If we vote for them, I think they might consider our proposals of repatriation and resettlement positively”, Sawibunga reasons.
R. Laldawngliana, another displaced Bru, believes talks of repatriation are expected to start after completion of Lok Sabha poll process. “We shall have to appeal to the Mizoram government for our repatriation and resettlement. There is none but MNF who can help us there,” he adds.
Bru repatriation has been a bone of contention between the state governments of Mizoram and Tripura for over two decades. While Tripura wants to get rid of them real fast, successive governments in Mizoram have accepted their return conditional to scattered resettlement.
The displaced Brus are bent upon a cluster village in Mizoram. They want it on the grounds of safety and security against any further tension with the ethnic Mizo community, which forced them to take shelter in Tripura at the first place 22 years back.
Each of the repatriated Brus were allotted 1225 sq. mt plot land and Rs. 80,000 cash assistance upon their return to Mizoram till now. Those who are waiting for their turn of repatriation have wrestled Rs. 1.5 lakh one-time cash assistance, 1.5 ganda land, free ration for two years and Rs. 5,000 monthly allowance for two years. However, Mizoram has denied them cluster villages.
“We want cluster villages. That will guarantee our safety and security. What if we face ethnic tension again in future? We can’t live scattered at the risk of violence,” says Charlie Franklyn Molshoi of the Kaskau transit camp in Tripura.
Jaintirung Reang of Lilyveng village feels work and is rare and livelihood has been tough since repatriation. “There is no work. Maintaining livelihood is very tough. We shall vote for Congress in Lok Sabha election. They will help us,” says the 89-year-old.
Boleha Reang (75) of Collegeveng village in Mizoram’s Zawlnuam says he got cash assistance and was allotted a plot of land. However, there is no official document of land title transfer in his name, neither is there any work available in the area.
Raju Meska of the same village echoes a similar tune. “We don’t have work. Some of us got NLUP benefits. There is some NREGA work available. We have electricity and schools. But there is no safe drinking water, no roads or proper healthcare available for us,” he says.
Both Boleha and Raju think Congress will be a good option for voting in Lok Sabha election this year.
However, there are exceptions too. Saronjoy Reang of Lilyveng village used to live at Kaskau refugee camp in Tripura before he was repatriated to Mizoram in 2014. He says NLUP and other govt benefits slowed down after MNF came to power last year.
However, he maintains that he is an MNF supporter. “Hum to MNF Hain. NREGA work is not in abundance now. Wages are also pending. But MNF has assured Rs. 3 lakh and plantation programme to every MNF supporting family among us. We hope they will deliver their promises after the elections are over.”