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Kukis, Meitis unite on one point - not right time for Lok Sabha polls in Manipur

Living separately and refusing to co-exist in future, many members of both Kukis and Meitis communities ask - why elections at this time and what difference will they make?
Last Updated : 13 April 2024, 07:17 IST
Last Updated : 13 April 2024, 07:17 IST

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Imphal/Churachandpur: The Kukis and Meitis may be at loggerheads in Manipur but their thoughts on one point converge — this is not the right time for Lok Sabha elections in the restive state.

It has nearly been a year since ethnic violence broke out between the hill-majority Kukis and the valley-majority Meitis. It has not only killed over 200 people and displaced around 50,000 but also sharply divided Manipur along ethnic lines.

Elections for two Lok Sabha seats in Manipur will be held on April 19 and 26. While Inner Manipur and some segments of Outer Manipur will vote in the first phase, the remaining segments of Outer Manipur will go to polls on April 26.

Living separately and refusing to co-exist in future, many members of both Kukis and Meitis communities ask - why elections at this time and what difference will they make?

"Our demand is clear - we want a separate administration for the Kuki Zo community. For years the development has only been in the valley and not our areas and after what has happened last year, we cannot live together… There is no question or possibility" said Lhaineilam, a Kuki who is the coordinator at a relief camp in Churachandpur district, which was epicentre of the violence last year.

"There is no exchange happening between the two sides -- neither of words nor of commodities, and the government wants us to vote for other side... How is that possible? A Kuki displaced from Meiti region has to vote for the Meiti constituency. How and why? The elections should have been conducted after addressing these sentiments and issues... Now is not the right time," he added.

The Kukis have already declared that they are not fielding any candidate in the upcoming polls as an act of boycott. However, different groups are still contemplating whether they will abstain from voting too.

"Several meetings have been going on and there is still no decision on what stand will we take about voting... There is one view of voting for the right candidate who can raise the demand for a separate administration and another view is why there are elections at this time... in a state which has literally been burning, is this the priority or some resolution to achieve peace," said a professor of a government college in Imphal, requesting anonymity.

"What will change after the elections? If they (government) had to act, they would have done by now," he added.

The academician, a Kuki, hasn't visited his workplace since clashes broke out and has no idea about when he will be able to take classes.

"The Meiti students do not want to attend my classes. If I take classes online, there is no cooperation from my colleagues too, simply because I am from Kuki community... Why should I vote for a constituency which is no longer mine," he said.

The Outer Manipur constituency, reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, has been represented by six Naga and five Kuki leaders so far. This time, all the candidates in the fray are Nagas, with no Kuki throwing their hat in the ring following the call of influential pressure groups to abstain from contesting.

Of Outer Manipur's eight lakh strong electorate, Nagas are the largest cohort with 4.61 lakh voters, followed by Kuki-Zomi (3.21 lakh).

Meitis, on the other hand feel that at a time when their houses have been burnt and their lives pushed back by at least two decades, how can they think of voting.

"We were living in the hills, we used to visit the valley frequently and sell goods here, we had our vehicles running, business was good. Now, our house is no longer there, the means of livelihood are gone and there is constant threat if we ever make an attempt to visit even the remains... It feels like our lives have gone back to where they were two decades back...and they want us to vote?" said Oinam Cheema, a displaced Meiti.

The Election Commission has announced that the displaced population will have the opportunity to cast their votes from relief camps.

According to Election Commission officials, over 24,000 people living in the relief camps have been found eligible to vote and 94 special polling stations are being set up for the purpose.

No voting arrangements have been made for those who left the state following the clashes to take shelter outside.

Manipur MLAs belonging to the Kuki-Zo community earlier this month asked the Election Commission to let displaced members of the community scattered beyond the state to vote from wherever they have taken shelter across the country.

A Meitei civil society group has also written to the poll panel asking that the postal ballot facility be extended to voters from Manipur living outside the state. The Meitei Heritage Society said recently that it is impossible for voters living outside the state to take expensive flights and road travel is completely unsafe.

Posters of political parties, mega rallies and visible movement of leaders - the traditional elements of campaigning - are conspicuously missing in the strife-torn state.

The only visible hint of elections is the hoardings put up by local election authorities, urging citizens to exercise their franchise. Major party figures have refrained from visiting the conflict-ridden state to canvas for votes or make electoral pledges.

The Delhi Meitei Coordinating Committee (DMCC), an umbrella body representing Meitei civil society organisations in Delhi, has written to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) seeking postponement of the Lok Sabha election in Manipur for the time being, citing the ethnic unrest and "abnormal" situation in the state.

"The situation is still abnormal...there are burnt remains and razed structures left right and centre, people are displaced...many have left the state and they cannot get back to cast their vote, neither any arrangements are being made to let them vote from outside… How can this be a fair election...this is not the right time," said 42-year-old Kunzang, who runs a shop at the famed Ima market in Imphal.

Manipur has traditionally seen a very high voter turnout with more than 82 per cent polling recorded in the 2019 elections.

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Published 13 April 2024, 07:17 IST

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