Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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EVM destroyed in 5/31 Thongju in first phase of Lok Sabha Election in Manipur on April 19, 2024

The Government Must Investigate, Expose and Overcome the Unidentified Armed Persons in Black Dress

Amidst complaints of voter intimidation, booth-capturing, and violence across several polling booths, India’s 18th Parliamentary Election in Manipur for two Lok Sabha seats concluded on April 26 as second phase of polling after the first phase was held on April 19.

In the first phase of polling on April 19, the average turnout of the State’s two Parliamentary Constituencies – Inner Manipur and Outer Manipur – was read at 72.17%. While the Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency reported a turnout of around 76.05%, parts of Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency saw 65.22% polling, as per provisional data available.

In the second phase of polling for the 13 remaining Assembly segments of Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency held on April 26, the total voter turnout was 76.06%

In the 17th Parliamentary Election 2019, the turnout for Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency was 81.26% while the Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency recorded voter turnout of 84.29%.

However, violence marred the first phase of the 18th Parliamentary Election in Manipur for two Lok Sabha seats on April 19.

One person was injured in a firing by unknown armed persons at the polling station of Moirangkampu Sajeb Upper Primary School of Khurai Assembly Constituency at Moirangkampu Sajeb in Imphal East district.

Reports said that suddenly two men came at the polling station and asked for polling agents of the Congress and the BJP candidates. They took the Congress agent outside by holding his hand. Then the two men fired shots from inside the car. One person got injured.

The armed persons were chased by irate public of Moirangkampu Sajeb and three persons were arrested by police along with arms and huge amount of cash from a nearby farmhouse.

In the night of April 19, the Manipur Police said that it had arrested three persons in connection with a firing incident at Moirangkampu Sajeb Upper Primary School in Imphal East in which one person had been injured.

In Thamnapokpi under Moirang Assembly Constituency in Bishnupur district, unidentified armed persons opened fire forcing the public to disperse towards a safer area.

There were several instances of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) being damaged during disturbances at polling booths. At least four Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were damaged at four places in Imphal East and West. At one of the polling booths, an EVM was set ablaze by unidentified persons, according to reports.

In the complaints sent to Election Commission of India (ECI), the Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) has alleged booth-capturing, rigging of votes, and coercion of voters by armed persons in as many as 47 booths across 12 Assembly segments. Eleven of these segments were in the Inner Manipur Lok Sabha seat such as Thongju, Khurai, Andro, Sekmai, Moirang, Oinam, Keirao and others. The party has sought a repoll in most of these polling booths. In Outer Manipur, the Congress complained of booth-capturing in polling booths of the Sugnu area.

Several incidents of booth-capturing were caught on videos that soon went viral on social media. Some of them showed armed men roaming around polling stations despite the presence of security forces while others showed miscreants firing multiple rounds near polling stations, following which prospective voters can be seen fleeing.

Video footage from the Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency showed mobs raiding a polling station and breaking electronic voting machines.

At another polling station, unidentified armed persons were seen threatening voters. One woman said that when she arrived to vote, she found that the votes of her entire family had already been casted.

Video footages went on viral in social media from the early hours of the polling of the first phase of the 18th Parliamentary Election in Mnipur on April 19 showing violence and intimidation on voters and workers of a particular political party.

In the reports of violence and intimidation in several parts of the Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency, the major incidents of violence were in the Assembly Constituencies of Thongju, Kshetrigao, Konthoujam, Uripok and Khurai.

Notably, Thongju, Konthoujam, Uripok and Khurai Assembly Constituencies are represented by BJP MLAs including three ministers while Kshetrigao AC is represented by National People’s Party (NPP) MLA who support the BJP Government.

In most of the 11 polling stations where repolls were conducted on April 22 after scrutinising the various complaints along with the candidates and their representatives under the respective Returning Officers on the basis of reports filed by Presiding Officers regarding incidents of mob violence, riots, and vandalism, there is a story common to all the polling booths where violence and intimidation rule.

The story is of unidentified armed persons in black dress intimidating non-BJP polling agents and booth capturing followed by mob violence and destroying of EVMs by irate public.

Thongju was another constituency where intimidation and mob violence dominated in some polling stations. Polling resumed in 5/32 polling stations in Thongju with the minister himself present till late hours of the night despite protests. However, repoll was ordered for only one polling station 5/31 Thongju AC.

In Kshetrigao constituency, repoll has been ordered in four polling stations. The constituency is represented by NPP which supports the BJP led government.

In Uripok constituency represented by BJP, repoll has been ordered in three polling stations located in the general area of Iroishemba. Here also, the complaint was about booth capturing by unidentified armed persons in black dress and mob violence followed.

In Keirao constituency also represented by BJP, a polling agent of Congress was beaten up and his wife allegedly strangled by unidentifed armed persons in black dress when she tried to stop them from abducting her husband.

The actions of the so called unidentified armed persons in black dress are widespread in many Assembly Constituencies of the Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency. The Security Forces both State and Central Paramilitary Forces were silent spectators even during polling hours.

Despite reports of intimidations before polling, any attempt to overcome the unidentified armed persons in black dress by the ECI and its officials was not evident as they are responsible for ensuring free and fair elections.

This is the first time in India’s electoral history in Manipur where fear psychosis whirls in the heads of many voters and political party workers.

Even though India’s 18th Parliamentary Election in Manipur for two Lok Sabha seats concluded, the activities of the so-called unidentified armed person in black dress may become more dangerous as and when the election results are out, and even in the next Assembly Elections.

Therefore, the State – both Government of Manipur and Government of India – must investigate, expose and overcome the unidentified armed persons in black dress in time otherwise they may haunt the State in near future in the conflict-ridden state of Manipur besides public.

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