In Manipur, elections had never been much about issues or political parties, but mostly about personalities. If the fight was more on issues affecting the state and general populace or on ideologies of the political parties, there would not have been much room for violence between supporters of rival candidates. Well, the pre-poll violence has begun quite early this time and as the clock ticks away, the fight is becoming more and more personal in certain constituencies. If the pre-poll violence which erupted recently in Andro constituency and some other constituencies is any indication of things to come, it does not bode well for the 2022 general elections. At least six persons were injured in a clash that broke out between two groups belonging to rival candidates of Andro Assembly Constituency in Manipur on Monday. Bullets from single or double barrel guns, licensed or unlicensed, were flying around and injuring even bystanders. The DC, Imphal East had since then passed prohibitory orders under Sec 144 of CrPC in the area. It was not only in Andro constituency but pre-poll violence is happening right in the heart of Imphal city and the suburbs. There was an incident of stone-pelting between supporters of rival candidates in Singjamei constituency. Similar incidents are also reported along with complaints of police being partisan or acting on the whims of ruling ministers being aired in every available medium of communication.
In Thoubal district, reports of violence and arson are coming from Heirok constituency every day leading to the district administration imposing CrPC 144 restrictions in the constituency. In this volatile constituency, not even the journalists are spared. Following the violence, additional forces including paramilitary forces like CRPF and BSF have been pressed into service to monitor the situation. One must understand that Heirok is unlike any other constituency. It was from Heirok that the idea of establishing the Village Defence Force (VDF) took seed, following an incident where some armed militants went on a shooting spree at a Thabal Chongba occasion. As we said, if this is the situation while elections are still four months away it could become a security nightmare during the polls and the state government needs to be prepared to tackle the situation. A high-level security meeting needs to be convened at the earliest to pre-empt possible scenarios and security challenges and draw up strategies to tackle the violence.
One can expect all kinds of violence, including voter intimidation and booth-rigging on the poll date or in the preceding days. It is the duty and responsibility of the state to ensure a secure environment for a free and fair poll, and for the Election Commission of India to conduct the poll fairly with the minimum of violence. In the valley area, apart from underground groups threatening candidates with monetary demands by use of bullets and hand-grenades, clashes between supporters of rival candidates involving guns were a rarity in the past. But in the hills, voting behaviour has most of the time been dictated through the barrel of the gun or the looming threat of unsavoury things to come if the dictates are not followed. From boycotting elections in the past, NSCN (I-M) has now moved on to putting up its proxies through a political party in both Nagaland and Manipur state. It is not the case of NSCN (I-M) alone, but several Kuki militant groups under SoO have political patronage and come election time these forces would be unleashed on the public. Taking all these factors into consideration, the state needs to begin preparations right away.