For Violence-Hit Manipur’s Displaced Voters, Elections “Have No Meaning”

Displaced after violence hit Manipur’s Churachandpur last year, Nganthoibi Mutum and her family have been living in a relief camp at Imphal uncertain of when they will return home. With the Lok Sabha polls a month away,  thousands of voters in the violence-hit state currently occupy relief camps and will be allowed to vote from there.

While the Inner Manipur seat will go to polls on April 19, the tribal reserved outer Manipur seat will see polling in two different phases – on April 19 and 26. 

Displaced by the violence and disappointed by leaders, the victims of the violence say elections are the last thought on their minds as poll season approaches. 

“We are all refugees here. Our minds are filled with worry about our uncertain future. We are in the middle of conflict so this is not the right time for us to be thinking about election. We don’t trust our leaders anymore. They have not done anything for us,” says Nganthoibi.

While special measures have been taken by the Election Commission to facilitate voting, the displaced voters remain uncertain about their choice.

“I think the government has not given our full rights yet. Even with special polling booths, we don’t have the same peace to choose our representatives. If we were at home, we would have been about the think about the elections” said Suresh.

“Our votes have almost no meaning now. We have been displaced for more than 10 months. There is no hope for us,” said Lulun, who was displaced from Churachandpur.  

“We are suffering in relief camps. Our ration supply has been irregular. Casting votes have no meaning for us,” said Lamvah.

Those who have lost their homes forever say they don’t even have important identification documents like voter IDs. 

Even as the violence has subsided over the last few months, holding elections for the two Lok Sabha seats in Manipur remains a major challenge for the Election Commission. 

“Our work force has also been displaced. With limited human resources, the division of the polls in two phases ensures that we have enough people and better security” said PK Jha, Manipur’s Chief Electoral Officer

In 2019, BJP won the Meitei dominated Inner Manipur seat and it’s ally NPF won the tribal reserved outer Manipur seat. This time, the BJP wants to repeat the success but the task would not be easy with Congress and other opposition parties making the Manipur violence a key poll issue for them nationally.

Ethnic clashes between the Meitei and tribal Kuki communities in Manipur since May last year have resulted in the loss of over 200 lives. According to officials, over 25,000 people have been rescued by the security forces while around 50,000 are living in camps following the unrest.

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