A high-level Election Commission team on Friday held a series of meetings, including with the Mizoram NGO Coordination Committee (MNCC), which has been spearheading a state-wide protest calling for removal of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and reinstatement of the ousted Principal Secretary (Home).
“The EC team headed by Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, immediately after their arrival in Aizawl on Friday afternoon, started holding meetings with various groups and Church leaders. The EC officials first held meetings with the leaders of MNCC and also with the state government and election department officials,” an official of the Mizoram Election Department said.
The outcomes of the meetings were not yet known. Also, it was not clear how the ongoing standoff would be resolved. The official said that the EC team, comprising four officials, likely visited one or two district headquarters on Saturday to study the preparedness of the November 28 polls to the 40-member Mizoram assembly.
The other members of the EC team include Jharkhand CEO Lalbiakthanga Khiangte, EC Secretary S.B. Joshi and Mizoram’s Additional CEO Lalzarmawii. The current visit by the poll panel team led by Jain follows a similar exercise by a three-member team of the Election Commission on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The leaders of MNCC, led by Mizoram’s most powerful NGO, Young Mizo Association, started the agitation on Tuesday demanding removal of CEO S.B. Shashank after Principal Secretary (Home) Lalnunmawia Chuaungo was removed on an Election Commission order.
The MNCC is also demanding that 11,232 voters among the tribal refugees lodged in seven Tripura relief camps be allowed to exercise their franchise at their respective polling stations in Mizoram and not in Tripura, as committed by the poll panel in 2014. The MNCC’s agitation was supported by Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and his ruling party Congress and opposition parties including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Election Department official said that the MNCC temporarily called off their protests late Wednesday evening after Shashank left Aizawl for New Delhi to meet Chief Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat and others. MNCC Chairperson Vanlalruata said that they would not “allow” the assembly elections if the Election Commission did not meet their demands.
“The Reang tribal refugees, registered as voters of Mizoram but sheltered in Tripura, should cast their votes from Mizoram. The CEO must be replaced. Unless the EC agrees to these, no election can be conducted in Mizoram,” Vanlalruata said.
The 35,000 Reang tribals, taking shelter in Tripura for over 21 years, have demanded setting up of polling stations in refugee camps in northern Tripura so that the 11,232 voters among them could cast their votes. The Reang tribal refugees, comprising 5,907 families, fled Mizoram and have been staying in Tripura’s Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions since October 1997 following ethnic tension after a Mizo forest official was killed.
The CEO in his report to the Election Commission reportedly said that Chuaungo was creating obstacles in allowing the Reang tribals to vote in the November 28 polls to constitute the 40-member Assembly. Chuaungo, a native of the tribal dominated Mizoram, is a Gujarat-cadre IAS officer. The MNCC in a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner said that the Election Commission must stick to the written commitment made by the poll panel in April 2014.
“The EC had made a written commitment before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that a provision would be made to ensure that the Reang tribal refugees, sheltered in Tripura, are able to vote within Mizoram in future polls,” said the MNCC letter, which was submitted to the three-member EC team that visited the state on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Meanwhile, on the last day of filing nominations on Friday, a large number of nominees submitted their candidatures.