Local political groups and NGOs in Mizoram have called off their agitation against Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of the state SB Shashank on Wednesday after he left for Delhi. Amid rising protest against the CEO, including from the Congress government, the Election Commission has summoned Shashank to Delhi.
Several organisations in Mizoram, under the umbrella body NGO Co-ordination Committee, have been demanding the removal of Shashank from the state ahead of assembly elections scheduled for 28th November. The centre of the contention is voting rights of Bru people from Mizoram currently lodged in refugee camps in neighbouring Tripura. More than thirty thousand people are living in Tripura after they escaped from Mizoram followed by large-scale violence against them in 1997.
These people are still voters in Mizoram, and during last assembly and parliament elections, the election commission had set up facilities for them to vote inside Tripura. But this was protested by Mizo organisations, and the Congress government. After that, the EC had made a commitment that in future votes for Mizoram will take place only in Mizoram. For the upcoming election, the election commission had taken up revision of electoral roll of Bru refugees in Tripura, and they were planning to set up poll booths at a border town in Mizoram for them. But the Mizo organisations were not supporting this move. They argued that only those who have returned to Mizoram should be allowed to vote.
A principal secretary-level officer in Mizoram, Lalnunmawia Chuaungo was allegedly interfering in the electoral roll updating process for the Bru people. On a complaint from the CEO, the EC had removed Chuaungo from his post week. CEO Shashank had said that Chuaungo interfering in the election process and security arrangements for the polls, adding that Mizoram government did not seem keen to have any new Bru voter enrolled. A Gujarat cadre IAS officer, Chuaungo is a Mizo man, and he was supported by the Mizo organisations in the effort to prevent Bru voters from voting in the elections. This was another reason for their demand for removal of Shashank.
On Monday, Mizoram CM Lal Thanhawla wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that removal of Shashank was the “only solution” for conducting the polls smoothly. Despite supporting the protesters, the CM himself was unable to file his nomination form in Serchhip as the returning officer’s office was gheraoed by protesters.
As the protests intensified, the Election Commission had sent a three-member delegation on Tuesday to meet the representatives of the protesting organisations. But the meeting remained inconclusive and the protesters didn’t budge from their position. On Wednesday morning they resumed their agitation in front of the CEO’s office. Amid all this tension, the Election Commission decided to summon Shashank to Delhi, and he left Mizoram on Wednesday itself. After news of his departure, the civil society decided to call off its agitation.
Shashank is meeting the officials of the poll panel today in Delhi. He does not know whether he will return to Mizoram or he will be removed from his post, the CEO said before leaving. He said that he was simply carrying out his duties as per instructions of EC and he has no intention to hurt the sentiments of local people in Mizoram. Shashank also said that reports of Bru refugees being allowed to vote inside their camps in Tripura is just a rumour, and EC was yet to take a final decision on the matter.
With just 20 days to go before the assembly election, the Election Commission will have to resolve the matter very soon to ensure a smooth election.