Violence related to election campaign has never been like this serious. Of course, direct involvement of armed militants in the hills, whether under ceasefire or SoO, during elections is quite a common phenomenon in the past. In the Naga areas, the writ of NSCN (IM) runs large while one is confused with the multiplicity of militant groups in Kuki areas. It is said, many of the candidates have a group in their pockets to be used during elections. In Chandel and Tengnoupal constituencies, we have recently seen evidence of such involvement. In the valley, Andro and Heirok constituency are problem areas. On Friday, unknown gunmen shot the father of National People’s Party (NPP) candidate, Lourembam Sanjoy Singh, contesting from Andro assembly constituency. The incident reportedly took place around 11 pm near the residence of the candidate while the victim was discussing election-related matters with supporters of the candidate. The victim, 74-year-old LourembamSamjai, received a bullet injury on his right shoulder. He is currently undergoing treatment at Shija Hospitals. On the other hand, the driver of BJP candidate Th Shyamkumar was also shot at, while houses and vehicles belonging to his supporters were ransacked and burnt. Charges and counter-charges are flying around.
Well, pre-poll violence begun quite early in Andro constituency, we had predicted that 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 October. 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.
Meanwhile, in the wake of election related violence leading to the death of one student and seriously injuring three others in Heirok, one cannot be certain of how this particular incident is going to unfold or take shape in Heirok constituency and elsewhere. Police found several empty shells of bullet rounds fired during the night lying around in the streets of Heirok bazar. District police had to call in reinforcements from other districts to control the developing situation which at any time may explode or implode. It was not only in Androor Heirok, but pre-poll violence is happening right in the heart of Imphal city and the suburbs with guns being unsheathed to intimidate voters or supporters of rival candidates. Similar incidents are also reported along with complaints of police being partisan or acting on the whims of ruling party or government ministers being aired in every available medium of communication.
As we said then, the evolving scenario could turn into a security nightmare if adequate precautions are not taken up in time. The district administrations have already called for depositing of licensed guns in view of the elections. Yet, only about a quarter of the licensed guns were deposited in the police stations till date while many are running around for exemptions. Perhaps, it is time for the police to move and collect the guns instead of waiting for gun owners to deposit it. And no exemptions, except for those under serious threat, should be made in the collection. 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. With the enforcement of Model Code of Conduct, the security apparatus comes under the Commission. Not only in terms of posting election related officials or police OCs and SPs away from home districts, the Commission is bound to demand a neutral stance from police investigating election related violence and passing adequate strictures.