10 per cent turnout was recorded till 9 am this morning. The figures rose to 21 per cent by 11 am. (Photo by Debraj Deb)
123456789Preparations started on Tuesday night itself. As many as 541 vehicles, including 61 buses, were lined up in front of all the six Bru refugee camps in Tripura’s north district to take 11,987 voters to Kanhmun, where they would vote for Mizoram assembly elections.
However, many of the old didn’t turn up, while the ailing, pregnant and lactating mothers declined to take the pain of travelling 55 km for casting a vote.
The buses started rolling at 5.30 am, followed by the smaller vehicles. By 6 am, queues had started forming at the 15 special polling booths set up for the Bru refugees at Kanhmun, 55 Km away from Naisingpara refugee camp-headquarter of Bru refugee leaders. The large school ground used for setting up the polling centre was heavily guarded on all sides by the CRPF , Mizoram Police and other security personnel.
Abhishek Kumar, a nodal officer appointed by Mizoram Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Ashish Kundra, said everything went off peacefully. “Polling started at 7 am. There are no reports of poll violence so far. No Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) has malfunctioned. Everything is going as per schedule,” Kumar told indianexpress.com. The final turnout was recorded at 71 per cent.
However, Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) president Apeto Sawibunga was not really happy with the arrangements. “There is no arrangement of safe drinking water. There are mothers who have come with their infants tied to them as well as the elderly. All of them have to wait under the hot sun. There should have been some arrangement to provide them relief from such troubles,” he said.
V. Laldungliana, vice-president of MBDPF, said the drivers tasked with taking the voters to the polling station in Kanhmun were not experienced in driving in the jungles. “Four vehicles got damaged. They replaced them with other vehicles and managed somehow. We have cast votes in previous elections also. But no earlier arrangement was like this. The process of voting outside the camps has hampered our turnout,” he said.
Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Coordination Committee (MBDPCC) president T Laldingliana said he had a similar experience. “Polling at the camps would have been more convenient for us. Kanhmun is 45 km away from our camps and we had to travel all the way. Some of the vehicles provided to us broke down midway. We had to change vehicles in order to manage,” Laldingliana said. The poll process would have been far better had the polling been held at the camps, he added.
A splinter group of MBDPF, MBDPCC surfaced as a separate organization after Bru refugees living in transit camps of Tripura rejected a repatriation agreement signed by the former with the Government of India and state governments of Tripura and Mizoram in June this year.
Fifty close circuit television cameras were installed for security and webcasting in and around the poll venue. Goutam Deb, who was in charge of the CCTV cameras, said no undesired incident was seen anywhere near the poll venue.
Bru refugees living in Tripura are voters registered in nine Assembly constituency seats of Mizoram — Hacchek, Dampa, Mamit, Tuirial, Kolasib, Serlui, Lunglei South, Thorang and Tuipui West. Among these, Hacchek and Mamit constituencies have the highest number of voters from the camps.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Sadhanmani Reang of Khakchang refugee camp said: “Many previous governments came and went. They didn’t take us back to Mizoram. I don’t know if this government will do so. But I have come to cast my vote which is my right,” Sandhamani said who left her camp at 6 am.
Bruichakma Reang, a 50-year-old refugee at Naisingpara refugee camp, came to Kanhmun to cast her vote at 4 am. Originally from Darla village of Hacchek assembly constituency, Bruichakma now wants an autonomous district council for Brus in Mizoram and land for house and sustenance.
Jyotirai Reang, who lived in Tuireng village of Mamit prior to fleeing to Tripura during the ethnic clashes of 1997, too started at 4 am. “I have cast my vote,” he said proudly flaunting his ink-marked finger.
Harimohan Bru, a 75-year-old man with pockmarks on his face testifying the hard days he faced, is hopeful the BJP will take them home and offer a district council too. From Dinthar village of Mamit district, Harimohan now lives at Ashapara refugee camp. “My son is 18-years-old but he was not given an EPIC card. If BJP comes to power, they will set these things right,” his 67-year-old wife Tuilati Reang said, huddled on the grassy field in front of the polling booth for Mamit district.
Saitarung Reang, 60, who lived in Chiloi village of Mamit district before moving to the Khakchang refugee camp, said she wants a district council for Bru in Mizoram and a safe life back home in her village.
So far there have been eight phases of repatriation for Bru refugees since 2009. However, only around 7,000 have gone back.