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India’s strife-torn Manipur overcomes fear of violence to vote in big numbers

RESIDENTS of India’s violence-torn northeastern state of Manipur turned out in large numbers to vote on Friday, despite the shadow of ethnic clashes that killed at least 220 people in the last year hanging over the national election.

The state has been roiled by fighting between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo people since May and continues to be divided into two enclaves – a valley controlled by Meiteis and Kuki-dominated hills, separated by a stretch of “no man’s land” monitored by federal paramilitary forces.

There were scattered incidents of violence on Friday in the state, despite heavy security.

At least six instances of groups trying to take over polling stations were reported in the state capital Imphal, said an election official, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“Armed mobs came and tried to take control of the polling station,” he said, adding that re-polling may be required in some booths.

There was also a firing incident between two armed groups in Bishnupur district but voting continued, the official added.

Although election campaign meetings were held behind closed doors because of fears of violence in the state of 3.6 million people, there was 68% voter turnout by 5 p.m. on Friday as polling stations closed.

“We expect the turnout to go up a little. Overall, people turned up and came out to vote,” Pradeep Jha, Manipur’s chief election officer, said earlier in the day.

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The national election began on Friday and will be conducted in seven phases, partly to ensure sufficient security at polling booths across the vast country. In the case of Manipur, voting will be completed in two phases, with the second set for April 26.

Both parliamentary seats in Manipur were won by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally in 2019.

Police officers stand guard outside a polling station during the first phase of the general election, in Imphal, Manipur, India, April 19, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer


The violence in Manipur broke out last year over the potential extension of affirmative action rights available to the Kukis, who make up 16% of the state’s population, to the Meiteis, who form 53% of the people.

The state and election officials made efforts to ensure that around 24,500 people displaced by the unrest can vote, replacing lost identity cards, verifying names in voter rolls and setting up 85 special polling booths for those living in relief camps.

While turnout was high in most parts of the state, which borders Myanmar, many residents abstained from voting in the Kuki-dominated Kangpokpi hills.

Kuki tribal bodies had asked voters to not participate in the election due to the violence.

Locals said that many polling booths in Kangpokpi saw a zero turnout. Joukim Vaiphei, a 33-year-old Kangpokpi resident, was one among the many Kuki-Zos who decided not to vote.

“It is like we don’t exist,” Vaiphei said, adding that nobody from her village was voting. “The federal interior minister visited once with a bunch of empty promises… and even after a year, the violence continues.

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“Recently, two men from our community were killed, their bodies defiled on camera. It was so barbaric, yet no word from the government. There may be democracy in other parts of India, but in Manipur, there is no democracy.”

State election chief Jha said turnout was about 20% in Kangpokpi as of 3 p.m.

In Churachandpur, where violence first started last May, Nenzboi Lhungdim, a Kuki nurse, successfully cast her vote.

“I think it (my vote) will definitely change our present situation,” said Lhungdim, a mother of three living in a relief camp.