More than 11,000 Bru voters from Mizoram, living in refugee camps in Tripura, find themselves at the centre of an unprecedented crisis in the poll-bound State. Mizoram goes to poll in the next three weeks and the Election Commission is yet to decide on the polling location for the displaced Bru voters.
A report published in the The Times of India stated that in 1997, the Brus fled the three western districts of Mizoram they used to live in after ethnic clashes in the State. Under a repatriation agreement between the Centre, the State governments of Tripura and Mizoram, and the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the Bru refugees were offered a rehabilitation scheme if they went back to Mizoram. The deadline for resettlement expired on September 25 last and the scheme found few takers.
The report further stated that now, Bru voters want to exercise their franchise from their refugee camps, as they have done in the past, while Mizo organisations in their home State have started a massive protest against the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) B Shashank for allowing them to do so. Of the 11,232 Bru voters living in Tripura, 8,777 are from the Mamit district, 1,732 from the Kolasib district and 723 from southern Mizora’’s Lunglei district. The journey from the six refugee camps in North Tripura district to polling stations in Mizoram is a long and difficult one.
“There is no way for us to travel to our villages. It’s way too far. The farthest Bru village in Lunglei district would take three days to reach,” Bruno Msha, an MBDPF leader, said. “It would cost the government a lot of money to just transport us,” Msha added. The EC has three options to resolve the crisis now – allowing Brus to vote in their villages in Mizoram, letting them vote in designated polling stations at Kanhmun village that divides Mizoram and Tripura, or letting them vote in Tripura camps through postal ballot. The Bru refugees are painfully aware of the turn this could take. “The Mizo civil society is very influential and even the State Government functions the way the society wants,” Msha said.
He added, “If the CEO is changed and the new man says that we have to vote in Mizoram, our problem will remain unresolved. When a crisis refuses to die out, President’s Rule is the solution.” In 2014, the EC had conducted a special revision of voters in the six refugee camps of North Tripura where the Bru families were living. A total of 11,243 voters were included in Mizoram’s electoral rolls and allowed to vote in the Lok Sabha election through postal ballots. The move had met with stiff opposition from several Mizoram organisations, who said the Brus should not be allowed to vote if they did not return to Mizoram. The EC had then said it would be the last time they would be allowed to do so and in future, the Brus would have to vote in Mizoram.