Rebels vote in Manipur

Many cadres of rebel groups in Manipur that have signed truces with the government voted in the Lok Sabha elections, hopefully heralding the start of a new political discourse in the state, writes Ninglun hanghal

In a historic event in Manipur, members of some rebel militant groups that have signed truces with the government were allowed to exercise their franchise in the just-concluded 16th Lok Sabha polls in the state. 

Members of the hills-based Kuki National Organization (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF), which have Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreements with the government, voted in the elections to the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha constituency on 9 April; their valley counterparts were also supposed to follow suit in the election for the Inner Manipur seat on 17 April, but it fell through, apparently because the government did not make the necessary arrangements, leading to a certain degree of recrimination.

The rebel groups under the umbrella of the KNO and UPF comprise 23 armed factions. An agreement for suspension of operations was signed in 2005 with the Central government (Ministry of Home Affairs) and later a tripartite agreement involving the Government of Manipur was signed in 2008.

The valley-based United Revolutionary Front (URF), and certain factions of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)  and Kanglei Kanna Yawol Lup ( KYKL).have also signed Memoranda of Understanding with the government.

The SoO agreements oblige the rebel groups to abide by the Constitution of India, to stop all extortion and other illegal activity, to confine themselves to designated camps, and to deposit arms.

Special arrangements, with a separate nodal election polling officer, were made for the KNO and UPF cadres. A total of  280 ballot papers were provided to 14 SoO-designated camps for the cadres in the Sadar Hills area, where in one such camp, Natheljang Ebenezer Camp in Kangpokpi, about 42 cadres cast their vote. In Churachandpur district, 195 cadres of rebel outfits of the UPF cast their votes in seven designated camps on 9 April.

On polling day in the Inner Manipur Parliamentary constituency, 17 April, the appearance of a clean shaved Ningthoujam Nongdrenkhomba alias Romen in a formal suit along with his wife at a polling booth caused a major sensation. The commander-in-chief of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP- MC) outfit exercised his franchise at Kumbi (C) polling station in Bishnupur district.

Most of his fellows, however, did not get the opportunity to exercise their franchise, apparently due to the failure of the authorities to make necessary arrangements for them to cast their votes, despite the Election Commission's instructions. 

An estimated 584 cadres from seven valley-based militant groups are under the umbrella of United Revolutionary Front (URF), the KCP (Lamphel) group and the KYKL (MDF).  A tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by these outfits, the Manipur government and the Union home ministry was signed in February 2013. The agreement covers non-involvement in anti-social and anti –national activities by the cadres, while the state and Central governments are expected to ensure security for the cadres. The cadres are lodged in temporary designated camps scattered over the state.

No arrangements were made on the lines of those made on 9 April for the KNO and UPF cadres to allow them to vote at their respective camps, nor were there any arrangements to escort the cadres to their respective polling stations, complained a leader of one of the pro-peace groups, who also pointed out that they are being targeted by other rebel outfits and it is not safe for them to move out of their camps. The authorities were not clear why arrangements similar to those made for the hills-based groups were not made for the valley-based pro-peace groups, but it is certainly something of an opportunity lost. The overwhelming response from the cadres who did get to exercise their franchise shows that it  could be the beginning of charting a new course of political discourse in Manipur and the North-east at large.

The writer is a delhi-based freelance contributor

The Statesman NE page
April 28,2014

Election in Manipur: High voter turn out, and incidents of booth capture

Ninglun Hanghal looks at the election in Manipur, which witnessed a high voter turnout, while in a few places, there were allegations of booth capturing.

Polling for the two Lok Sabha seat in Manipur have been completed. The record voter turnout was 75% and 84% in the Inner and Outer Manipur Parliamentary constituency respectively. No major changes comparatively as in the last general election in 2009 with a turnout of 72% and 84% respectively.

Though no major incidents were reported, in the Inner constituency Re-poll was held in one polling station at Moijing (A) in Thoubal District , where the number of voter turn-out exceed the voter list. Further, four Polling station in Oinam Constituency in Bishnupur District, saw no voter turn-out due to a boycott call, after public protest against the police in the aftermath of an incident of threat to one family by miscreants.

Except Moijing Polling station, no re-poll was recommended by the State CEO, though Political parties such as the BJP have demanded for a re-poll in several polling stations with allegations of manipulations of polling stations and proxy voting in the Inner Parliamentary constituency in Manipur.

In the outer parliamentary constituency, Re-polling was held in six Polling stations at Lambung and Molnoi village in Chandel district, Sanakeithel in Ukhrul; Keihao Tangkhul village, Katao village and Thaibung Khunou in Senapati district. According to the State Chief Election Officer in these areas EVMs were destroyed and the number of votes recorded was more than the number in the voters’ list.

Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency covers the entire hill districts, with majority of inhabitants, the Nagas and Kuki-Chin- Zo ethnic groups, along with seven Assembly segments in the Thoubal district and Jiribam sub-division in the valley.

Over 200 companies of state and armed para military forces as well as unarmed security personnel were deployed. Out of the total of 1406 polling stations; 327 were categorized as hyper sensitive, 797 sensitive and 282 officially considered normal. MI-17 helicopters were used in lifting polling personnel and EVMs at polling stations located in “unfriendly” terrains.

Ethnic and community polarization is still deep rooted in these Hill areas of Outer Manipur parliamentary constituency. The trend of the election canvassing and campaign, support for particular candidate are normally led by Traditional bodies, tribe based organizations and its leaders. Most commonly, people follow, support and vote in terms of their group, community and ethnic affiliations. Whether these trends of electoral politics and its discourse in these areas were in tandem with the “militant/ armed” groups is altogether a different story.

These militant groups in Manipur are notoriously infamous for their diktats over every spheres of socio – economic lives of the people.

Interestingly, Kuki Armed rebel groups, who were under Suspension of Operation (SoO) Agreement with the Government of India are voting in this election in Outer Manipur Parliamentary constituency. This is a welcome step by the Election Commission with an overwhelming response. A total of 280 ballot papers were provided to 14 various designated camps. In one of the designated camp in Sadar hills about 42 cadres of Kuki National Front (KNF) cast their votes . It may be mentioned that there are 23 armed groups under the SoO agreement.

It may also be recalled that the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) Isaac – Muivah and Khaplang group, the oldest secessionist militant movement in NE have successively boycotted elections in Manipur – both the state assembly , parliamentary , including the Autonomous District Council Elections.

The re-polling conducted in the six stations in the ongoing voting exercise are reportedly areas of NSCN domain.

Right after polls, reports of booth capture follows. Accusation and allegation of booth capturing were leveled against Militants/ Insurgent groups by political parties ,mostly the BJP in the outer Manipur parliamentary constituency.

Do these “militants” come to the polling stations is a big questions. With hundreds of security forces deployed in these “hyper sensitive” areas, whether “militants” have a free hand in these polling stations, is a complex phenomenon indeed. Do “militants” or underground outfits take control of the ballot boxes or do they force the common man at gun point is for the election officials to report and confirmed. It may also be noted that media persons are not present in these interior, rural areas. Moreover, it may be further stated that all elections related and voting reports from these interior areas were sourced from the State Election department.

The fact is many common civilians in these rural villages do not exercise their franchise. While traditional bodies, civil societies did influence public opinion, many are indifferent to elections, particularly Lok Sabha. Further these are areas with no basic infrastructures and proper connectivity far from the development and political discourse of the country.

The real picture behind the consistently impressive Voter turn outs and booth capturing in outer Manipur parliamentary constituency should be seriously looked into by the State Election Department and Election Commission of India.

Liberty Institute ( empowering India) New Delhi
April 2014

Do the north eastern states vote differently in state assembly and Lok Sabha elections?

As India goes to polls next month, the wave of the General Elections 2014 extravaganzas, and preparations is being felt across the length and breadth of the country. The upcoming election is rated as one of the most interesting elections in post Independence era.

In the north east states though, the election pitches do not reach such magnitude, comparatively as in other ‘mainland’ states. This is unlike the State Assembly elections,  where normal life were literally on halt during such election campaignsthat would comprise of loud microphones, public meetings, road side discussion and door to doorvisits. During state assembly elections, these states too witnessed extravaganzas and flow of liquor like any other election campaigns across the country.   In Parliamentary Elections, no such enthusiasm or euphoria amongst the general public were observed and witnessed either during or after the elections, while candidates and political parties do not make much of an effort in- terms of wooing electorates.
The indication of the countdown to the Lok Sabha elections would be the visits of Prime Ministerial candidates, National level political party leaders’ public address for about an hour or so in the North East state capitals. In this case, it would obviously be the likes of Rajiv Gandhi, in the earlier years and now Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi in the recent years. Another such personalities, this time is the visit of Narendra Modi of the BJP.
This trend in people’s participation in terms of exercising their adult franchise – State and Lok Sabha elections gives us a picture of how State elections witnessed more fanfare and enthusiasm than the Parliamentary elections. (source – ).
General election 2009 record voter turn-out between 65 % to 74% in Assam, while State election in 2011 saw voter turn-out between 80% to 92 % in all the twenty seven districts.   While the two Lok Sabha seats in Arunachal Pradesh recorded 67 % and 72 % voter turn-out , the  State  election record showed  85% to 92% turn out in 2009. In Manipur the last Lok Sabha election saw voter turn-out of 72 % and 84 % for the two seats , while the State election saw turn out  between 70% to 90% in 2012.  In Meghalaya voter turn-out recorded in the last election was 63 % and 68% for the two Lok Sabha seats while the State Election in 2013 recorded 85% to 95% voter turn-out. In Mizoram the lone Lok Sabha seat election saw only 52 % turn-out, while the last State election witnessed 80% – 85 % turn out.  In Nagaland, voter turn-out record was 90 % for the lone Lok Sabha seat, while 92% to 98% voter turn-out was recorded in the state assembly polls in 2013. In Tripura the last Lok Sabha election saw 84%and 86% voter turn-out for the two seats, while the State assembly recorded above 90% turn out from all the eight districts in 2013.
Surprisingly, voter turn-out both the State and general election were higher in North East states than some of the key states such as Uttar Pradesh, the Congress bastion. In Rae Bareli only 48% voter out was recorded in the last Lok Sabha election with an average of 50% to 65% voter turn-out in all the districts in the last 2012 state election. Further, in Amethi constituency it was 45 % turn out in Lok sabha election and 56% in state assembly election in 2012. Moreover in other state such as Bihar voter turn-out recorded as low as an average of 34 % turn out in Patna constituency in the last general election and between 35 % to 56 % in district such as Patna 60 % in state  election. (source – ).
One of key reason for this general feeling of less enthusiasm in the general election to the parliament in the northeast states could well be the ‘minority status’ where out of the total 545 parliamentary seats, the seven North east states sends only 24 representatives.
In terms of election campaign, slogans and manifestos, Incumbency and Corruption figures as poll plank in the mainstream, while Development is the key manifesto in North east states. Though, corruption has its own various facets, the subject have not been a public debate.
Moreover, a look at the government formation in the North East presents the influence and impact of certain political party or political personae. All the north eastern states were granted statehood under the Congress government beginning from 1963 when the state of Nagaland was created under Pt Nehru, then subsequently under Indira Gandhi the state of Manipur in 1971, Tripura and Meghalaya in 1972, while Rajiv Gandhi during his Prime Minister-ship granted statehood to Mizoram in 1985 and Arunachal Pradesh in 1987.
The first State Government in Manipur, Tripura and Assam were formed by the Indian National Congress. While the first state government in Nagaland , Meghalaya ,and Mizoram, under the good will of the INC were formed by Local Political party such as Naga Nationalist Organization, All Party Hill Leaders’ Conference and Mizo National Front, respectively. The only North East state of Arunachal Pradesh’s first state assembly in 1975 till 1979 has a national party the Janata Party led Government. The period when Indira Gandhi was vote out of power and the fall of the INC in the centre. The Janata Party also formed the state government in Assam in 1978 – 79, and a five month government in Tripura in 1977. Other National level party such as Samata Party came to power for a year in Manipur in 2001. Currently, Tripura has  the Communist Party of India ( Marxist) government.
Liberty Institute, New Delhi- April 3,2014