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LS Polls: Over 24k displaced people to vote from relief camps in violence-hit Manipur

LS Polls: Over 24k displaced people to vote from relief camps in violence-hit Manipur

Image Source: PTI

Imphal, April 7: Eleven months of conflict, over 50,000 displaced people, and an anti-poll sentiment among the few—the Election Commission in violence-hit Manipur is gearing up for the challenging task of holding Lok Sabha elections in the state where the poll scene is muted.

Chief Electoral Officer Pradeep Kumar Jha said over 24,500 displaced people have been identified as eligible to vote in the upcoming elections, and special arrangements have been made for them to cast their franchise from relief camps.

“A total of 2,955 polling stations will be set up in the state for the Lok Sabha elections, out of which around 50 percent have been identified as sensitive, vulnerable, or critical. We are also setting up 94 special polling stations to facilitate voting by internally displaced persons (IDPs),” Jha told PTI.

As per Election Commission of India (ECI) norms, a vulnerability mapping of hamlets, villages, and electoral segments vulnerable to threat and intimidation is conducted ahead of polls.

“Special teams have been formed to deal with these voters with empathy, and we have also started voter awareness activities. The activities are being designed keeping in mind the sentiments of the displaced people who have lost the comfort of being in their home, and there is some level of frustration and negativity,” he added.

At least 219 people have been killed in the ethnic strife in the state that started on May 3 last year after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.

A majority of over 50,000 internally displaced people are currently staying at relief centres across five valley districts and three hill districts.

Scheduled in two phases on April 19 and 26, the Lok Sabha elections in Manipur have garnered attention for the displaced population’s voting arrangements.

Several civil society groups and the affected people have been questioning the relevance of elections in the strife-torn state. There have been calls from several quarters about boycotting the polls too.

Sharing the statistics, Jha said there are over 20 lakh voters in the state, and women voters outnumber men voters.

“The state has traditionally seen a very high voting percentage in the previous elections, which is reflective of people’s faith in the electoral process. Even if some people are feeling negative about it, we are trying to create awareness about making each vote count and taking some confidence-building measures,” he said.

Asked about the security arrangements for the polls, Jha said over 200 companies of paramilitary forces have been allocated to the state.

“The idea is not only to ensure that the displaced voters do not miss out on the chance but also that they feel safe. Adequate security arrangements are being made across the state. Video surveillance has already begun, and the entry and exit points are being monitored. It is obvious to have concerns about security considering the conflict in the state, however, these concerns are being addressed,” he said.

Posters of political parties, mega rallies, and visible movement of leaders — the traditional elements of campaigning — are conspicuously missing in violence-hit Manipur, where polling for Lok Sabha elections is due in less than two weeks.

The only visible hint of the impending election is the hoardings put up by local election authorities, urging citizens to exercise their franchise.

Amid the muted election scene, major party figures have refrained from visiting the conflict-ridden state to canvass for votes or make electoral pledges.

Jha admitted that the campaign is low-key in the state but maintained that there are no restrictions from the EC.

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