AIZAWL: A week ago, Ashish Kundra took over as the chief electoral officer of Mizoram in the middle of an election process marked by belligerent opposition over the voting rights of Bru refugees in Tripura. In a week from now, the state goes to the polls. And after a long unrest over where and how the Brus will vote, a middle ground has been reached and it lies in Kanhmun.
“There has been very little time. But since I was handling the general administration department before this, working with the deputy commissioners was part of my job. The administrative part of my duties were, therefore, manageable,” Kundra said.
Preparations for the November 28 assembly election are nearly done. This time, there will be 4,756 personnel at work in 1,164 polling stations across Mizoram. “In Lanwgtlai district, there are 104 polling stations that are so far from the headquarters that officials have to leave two days before election to be able to reach on time. Aizawl district has 57 such booths, Siaha has 25, Lunglei 16 and Mamit three. Serchhip and Champhai don’t have any such remote booth,” deputy chief electoral officer H Lianzela said.
Logistical problems aside, the real challenge, the newly-appointed chief electoral officer said, was handling the crisis surrounding the Bru voters from Tripura’s refugee camps.
In the tiny hill state, polling has always been peaceful with a high turnout. Electioneering is also low-key, with none of the flamboyant extravagance that is a hallmark of the days leading up to the election elsewhere. What took the state by storm this time was the Bru voter issue.
For about two weeks before Kundra took over, Mizo groups were up in arms against his predecessor, SB Shashank, for being “too accommodative” of the Bru voters. “It has always been an emotive issue. There are certain ethnic fault lines. The key, as I see it, is to restore faith and bring everyone on board,” Kundra said.
A commercial centre on the inter-state border, the Mizo-dominated village of Kanhmun is located in the Kawrthah subdivision in Mizoram’s Mamit district. This is where the Brus from Tripura will cast their votes. A single-lane bridge over the Langkaih river, known as the Sunai river in Tripura, divides the two states. The furthest Bru camp, Hazacherra, is 57 km from Kanhmun, while the nearest, Kaskau, is 2 km away.
“This strikes a fair balance between what the Mizos and the Brus demanded. The atmosphere at Kanhmun is conducive to holding the election. We are making every possible arrangement to ensure that each voter gets to exercise their franchise,”Kundra said. Kundra travelled to Kanhmun on Tuesday with government officials.
“There will be nine polling stations for those registered as voters from Mamit district and three each for those from Kolasib and Lunglei districts. Special security arrangements are being worked out. We have proposed that polling be held between 7 am and 3 pm, ending an hour before booths in other areas. A team of six IAS officers and one IPS officer is being deployed,” he added.
Asked if this arrangement would be acceptable to the Mizo organizations, Kundra said, “This has been planned with the Mizo organizations in confidence … Young Mizo Association (YMA) volunteers will even help with the polling process at Kanhmun.”YMA is the largest constituent of the NGO Coordination Committee, which spearheaded the protests against Shashank.
“While awaiting approval from the Election Commission, the plan is to provide transport for the Bru voters, which we are working out with the Tripura government. The Mizoram government will bear the expenses,” he said. The NGO Coordination Committee had on Monday demanded that no transport be provided to the Bru voters and that the Mizoram government not cover the costs.