Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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File Photo of ITLF protest in Churachandpur on November 15, 2023 against “Selective Justice in Manipur”.

Why Have Kuki-Zomi Tribes Decided Not to Contest in the 18th Lok Sabha Election and Instead Boycott It?

With the announcement of the schedule for India’s 18th Parliamentary Elections 2024 by Election Commission of India (ECI), the Kuki-Zomis respite not only the violent attacks from the surrounding mountains on the Meiteis in the foothills and nearby areas but also cease to contest in the Lok Sabha elections.

For the first time in the history of Indian parliamentary elections in Manipur, there will be no candidate from the Kuki-Zomi tribes which constitute more than three lakhs voters in the Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituecy in the 18th Lok Sabha election scheduled for polls on April 19 and 26 in two phases.

Manipur has two parliamentary constituencies – Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency and Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency. Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency is reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) and it consists of 28 Assembly Constituencies (AC) including nine unreserved ACs of which eight ACs are dominated by the Meiteis and another AC – Kangpokpi dominated by the Kuki tribes. The voters of the unreserved ACs who do not belong to the ST cannot contest for the Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency seat and they are allowed only to cast their votes. The eight Assembly Constituencies are Jiribam, Kakching, Khangabok, Heirok, Hiyanglam, Sugnoo, Wabagai and Wangjing-Tentha. These Assembly Constituencies have around 2.5 lakh voters.

In the last 17 Lok Sabha elections since 1952, there was no Lok Sabha election in Manipur without candidates from Kuki tribes.  In the last 17 Lok Sabhas five Kukis represented Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency seven times while six Nagas represented 10 times.

From the Nagas Rishang Keishing (Socialist Party) was elected twice in 1952 and 1962; Rungsung Suisa (INC) once in 1957; Yangmaso Shaiza (INC) once in 1977; Meijinlung Kamson (INC) four times in 1984, 1989, 1990 and 1996; Mani Charanamei (Ind) once in 2004; and Lorho S Pfoze (NPF) once in the last Lok Sabha election 2019.

From the Kuki tribes Paokai Haokip was elected twice in 1967 (Ind) and 1971 (INC); N Gouzagin (INC) once in 1980; Kim Gangte (CPI) once in 1998; Holkhomang Haokip (NCP) once in 1999; Thangso Baite (INC) twice in 2009 and 2014.

However, this time, no candidate from the Kuki-Zomi tribes has filed nominations for the 18th Parliamentary Elections 2024 as an after-effect of the continued violent conflict.

Even after the violent conflict that erupted on May 3 last year with Kuki-Zomi militants attacking Meiteis in Manipur’s Churachandpur district and its bordering areas of Bishnupur district is almost one year – 333 days on March 30, 2024, the Government fails to resolve it.

As the violent conflict that has been going on since May 3 last year  is almost that has claimed more than 221 lives of which 198 were civilians including 20 women and 8 children, and 61,387 persons have been internally displaced,

Moreover, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) on Monday (March 25) evening issued an “advisory notice” urging people from the Kuki-Zomi community not to file nominations “considering the plight they were facing”, even as encouraging people to vote.

The ILTF said that the decision was taken following consultation with constituent tribes.

It may be mentioned that the nominations for the first phase of polls closed on Wednesday, March 27, for the Outer Manipur Parliamentary seat, which votes across two phases – the first phase (April 19) and second phase (April 26).

The ITLF asked members of the Kuki-Zomi community to “abstain from contesting” in the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat. In a statement, the Churachandpur district-based organisation, however, told the members of the community to vote in the Lok Sabha polls as citizens of India.

“We advise our community members to exercise their right by voting in the upcoming Lok Sabha election, but abstain from contesting in the Outer Manipur seat,” said the ITLF in the statement issued on Monday, March 25.

On the other hand, the Kuki People’s Alliance (KPA), a political party for the Kukis floated in before the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Elections 2022 with an aim to politically represent the interests of the community, which has two MLAs in the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly, has also decided against fielding candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, according to reports.

Reports quoting KPA General Secretary, Lalam Hangshing said, “Efforts were on to field a ‘consensus candidate’ from the community. The situation is delicate and we do not have winning numbers. The exercise will be futile if a lot of people contest. We have to be calculative as we do not have the support of any major party. We have more or less concluded that we should not field a candidate as we will not get 100% of Kuki votes. If we contest, other smaller outfits may also want to contest.”

Meanwhile, representatives of several Kuki youth organisations, along with a global Kuki women organisation, have decided to boycott the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, as they feel that their grievances have been overlooked ever since the violent conflict began in Manipur on May 3, 2023.

In a letter to the Principal Secretary, Secretariat of the Election Commission of India on March 26, Young Kuki, young members of the Kuki tribes from the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha constituency, said a collective decision had been taken following deep-seated grievances and a series of unaddressed injustices that have plagued Kuki tribes, especially since the violent outbreak.

The letter said that this “drastic step” was being in the face of continued violence against the Kuki people, characterised by brutality and loss of life, without any significant legal repersussions for the perpetrators, underline a gross failure of justice.

The Young Kuki said the “destruction and displacement – the systematic destruction of their homes and places of worship, resulting in the displacement of over 41, 425 Kukis demonstrates a blatant disregard for their well-being and cultural heritage.

Further, the Young Kuki said unchecked arms violence where the refusal of the Government of India to address the looting of arms from police armories by the Arambai Tenggols has had devastating consequences. These arms are wielded against innocent Kukis perpetuating a climate of fear and violence that undermins any sense of security and peace.

They also said there is inadequate support for displaced Kukis. The lack of essential support for over 41, 425 displaced Kukis demonstrates a neglect for the humanitarian conditions and dignity of their people.

There are also unaddressed crimes against Kuki women.  The horrific crimes against their women, which remain unpunished, reveal a disturbing neglect of their pleas for justice and accountability, the Young Kuki said.

The Young Kuki alleged that the State officials defamed the Kukis. The derogatory labelling of the Kuki community by State officials including being termed as “Monkeys” by the Chief Minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh is an affront to their dignity and demands accountability, they said.

The Government’s ongoing negligence of their tribe’s demand for separate administration, coupled with its persistent avoidance of political dialogue with Kuki leaders, constitutes a disregard not only for their saftey, security, and distinct cultural and political identity but also for the democratic principles of dialogue and peaceful dispute resolution, the Young Kuki said.

Further, the Young Kuki said the poll boycott serves not only as an expression of collective dissent but also as a plea for urgent attention to our community’s plight.

Moreover, over 15 Kuki-Zomi-Hmar women organisations also said they would boycott the Lok Sabha polls.

“The crux of our decision stems from the following unresolved issues: the absence of justice for the ethnic cleansing that has resulted in the displacement of over 41,425 Kuki-Zomi-Hmar from Imphal, along with the lack of prosecution for the rape and murder of more than 20 Kuki-Zomi-Hmar women, and 167 confirmed deaths” among others.

Besides the letter to the ECI, the Young Kuki issued a release. “It is a call for justice, for the protection of our rights and for the acknowledgement of our existence and sufferings,” said the release adding that the organisations were open to constructive dialogue with Centre, and urged it to engage with the community in “meaningful discussions to resolve these pressing issues.”

Eligible voters among the more than 9,000 displaced people from strife-ravaged Manipur, who are now living in Mizoram, also appear unlikely to be able to vote this year.

“If we are to engage in the election process we would be compelled to comply with the regulations which will leave our frontlines defenceless. Our Village Volunteers will be stripped of the little arms supply they have, rendering them unable to protect our villages and towns from any attacks from the Meitei radicals,” they said.

Highlighting that the “demographic figures are stacked against us, a small community like ours just does not have the numbers to win an MP seat on our own. In the current situation no major party has offered any tickets to any Kuki-Zomi candidate, not to mention that a significant part of the Outer-Manipur constituency includes Thoubal and Jiribam, areas that are Meitei-dominated. It is highly unlikely that Meiteis or Nagas will vote for a Kuki-Zomi candidate”.

Notably, Houlim Shokhopao Mate ( Benjamin Mate) contested last 17th Lokh Sabha election on ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket but stood second with 2,89,745 Votes that is 33.77% Vote share. The seat was won by Dr. Lorho S Pfoze of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) with 3,63,527 Votes 73,782 lead 42.37% Vote Share.

However, this time due the prevailing situation, on Friday March 22, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced that it would extend its support to the candidate chosen for the seat by the Naga People’s Front. The NPF has given a ticket to former Indian Revenue Service officer Kachui Timothy Zimik for the seat this year.

While the BJP’s ally NPF is fighting against the Indian National Congress (INC) candidate former MLA from Ukhrul Assembly Constituency Alfred Kanngam S Arthur and the Kuki-Zomi tribes has no filed nominations another two Naga Independent candidates – S Kho John and Alyson Abonmai – are also contesting for the Outer Manipur Parliamentary Constituency.

Amidst the advisory of the ITLF not to file nominations to contest Lok Sabha elections for the Outer Manipur Parliamentary but cast votes while the Young Kuki and other Kuki-Zomi-Hmar women organisations call for boycott of the elections whether the Kuki-Zomis will be deciding voters instead of the Meiteis or not has to wait and watch.

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