Tribal bodies in Manipur are at odds with the Election Commission (EC) for not responding to their demand to reschedule the date of first-phase of polling in the state on February 27.
The All Manipur Christian Organisation (AMCO), the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM), the Naga People’s Front and the opposition Congress have appealed to the EC to reschedule the polling date of nine Christian-dominated hill Assembly constituencies.
They are seeking rescheduling as polling day falls on Sunday, a day of worship for the Christian community.
Elections to the 60-member Manipur Assembly are slated to be held in two phases on February 27 and March 3.
As the EC has so far failed to respond to their demand, the AMCO has convened a meeting of leaders of all denominations of Christian faith on February 3 to decide on their “future course of action”.
The AMCO in a press release stated that it convened the meeting after receiving no response so far from the Chief Election Commissioner’s (CEO) office on the demand for change of polling date of nine constituencies.
The release said the AMCO leaders met the state’s chief electoral officer (CEO) on January 17 and submitted a memorandum requesting the EC to change the date of the first phase of election respecting the religious sentiments of the Christian community of the state.
CEO Rajesh Agrawal said the complaint had been forwarded to the EC for consideration.
Christians constitute 41.29 per cent of Manipur’s total population of 28.56 lakh, as per the 2011 Census.
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In the nine hill districts of the state – Churachandpur, Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul, Kamjong, Noney, Kangpokpi and Pherzawl – that elect 20 MLAs, the population is almost entirely Christian. The hills are predominantly inhabited by the tribals.
The remaining seven districts are located in the valley, inhabited mostly by the Hindu Meitei population. The valley comprises just 10 per cent of Manipur’s total area, but is home to almost 60 per cent of the state’s population. The valley elects 40 MLAs.
The hill-valley divide is a recurring theme in Manipur politics. If not judiciously handled, the demand for change of polling date could further contribute to the divide as tribal outfits feel that their religious sentiments are being ignored.
“It is highly discriminatory on the part of the Election Commission to not respond to our demand even though it has rescheduled the polling date in Punjab on religious grounds,” said ATSUM general secretary SR Andria.
The EC rescheduled polling in Punjab to February 20 from February 14 on account of Guru Ravidas Jayanti.
Andria said the state’s BJP-led government should have conveyed properly to the EC the religious sentiments of the Christian population and sought rescheduling of polling date. “It (the government) has failed to do so. This has hurt the sentiments of the people,” Andria added. “Such discrimination indirectly contributes to the rift between the hills and the valley.”
The AMCO has not yet spelt out what its future course of action would be, but sources in the outfit said it may either move court or even call for abstention.
The polling percentage would be very low if voting in Christian-dominated areas is held on the Sabbath day, the ATSUM had cautioned earlier. bodies in Manipur are at odds with the Election Commission (EC) for not responding to their demand to reschedule the date of first-phase of polling in the state on February 27.