10 Kuki-Zo MLAs, Meitei Civil Society Group Write To Election Commission On Voting By Displaced People

10 Kuki-Zo MLAs, Meitei Civil Society Group Write To Election Commission On Voting By Displaced People

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Imphal/Guwahati:

Ten Kuki-Zo MLAs in violence-hit Manipur have written to the Election Commission requesting arrangements to ensure displaced members of their tribes who have taken shelter across the country can cast their votes in the Lok Sabha election for Manipur. A Meitei civil society group has also written to the Election Commission asking for extending the postal ballot facility to voters from Manipur living outside the state. 

The 10 MLAs, who were the first to demand a separate administration from Manipur after ethnic violence with the valley-majority Meiteis broke out on May 3, 2023, requested the Election Commission (EC) to look into three key points – the states and Union Territories should identify displaced Kuki-Zo tribes; special polling stations should be set up for internally displaced Kuki-Zo-Hmar tribes from Manipur, and eligible voters from the displaced tribes should be allowed to vote using Aadhaar or other documents.

“… Many of them would have lost their voter identity cards,” the MLAs said in the letter.

The Kuki-Zo tribes are a majority in the hill areas in southern Manipur and a few other districts.

“It is learnt that the esteemed Election Commission of India has notified arrangements to enable displaced people currently lodged at relief camps in Churachandpur and Kangpokpi to cast their votes. It may be stated that if similar or suitable arrangements are not made for our displaced people taking shelter in different parts of the country as highlighted above, many of our genuine voters will be deprived of their constitutional rights to exercise their franchise as provided under the Constitution,” the Kuki-Zo MLAs said in the letter to the EC.

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In the other letter to the EC, the Meitei Heritage Society (MHS) said several thousands have left relief camps in Manipur in search of a livelihood in other parts of the country, and there is no arrangement for them to cast their vote.

“… They will be deprived of their most important democratic right,” the MHS said.

Explaining why the postal ballot facility should be extended, the MHS said economic activity has come to a standstill and the people in the state are facing their worst-ever economic crisis.

“It is impossible for voters living outside the state to take expensive flights and road travel is completely unsafe. Many others are also unable to travel to Manipur to vote due to security concerns,” the MHS said, referring to the sharp ethnic divide due to which Meiteis can’t pass through Kuki-Zo-dominated hill areas by road, while members of the Kuki-Zo tribes have stopped taking flights since the airport is in Imphal valley.

The MHS suggested the EC may consider extending the postal ballot facility only to displaced people of Manipur living outside the state who hold valid voter identity cards. “… This facility would ensure their voices are heard in the democratic process. For a state that is undergoing its biggest crisis in its history, depriving the voters their adult franchise would be the biggest injustice in India’s proud democratic system,” the MHS said.

The MHS, however, alleged the 10 Kuki-Zo MLAs should have been more accommodating in their request to the EC as their letter carries a sharp communal tone at a time when leaders should be working towards peace and reconciliation.

“The demand for the most fundamental democratic right must not and cannot be communal. The Meitei Heritage Society has demanded the right to vote for all displaced people of Manipur living in other parts of India,” lawyer and MHS spokesperson Geeta Takhellambam told NDTV.

“However, it is disheartening to see that even for this demand, the Kuki-Zo MLAs, while writing to EC, have demanded to arrange voting facility only for the Kuki-Zo-Hmar victims, thereby furthering their divisive politics even in this issue,” Ms Takhellambam said.

The Manipur ethnic violence broke out over cataclysmic disagreements on sharing land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies between the Kuki-Zo tribes and the Meiteis. Over 200 have died in the clashes, and thousands have been internally displaced.

Manipur has two Lok Sabha seats – Inner Manipur, and Outer Manipur. The entire Inner Manipur constituency and some areas under Outer Manipur will vote on April 19. The remaining areas under Outer Manipur will vote on April 26. Votes will be counted on June 4.

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