Ultimate test for CEO

                THOUGH the public address system fell silent and the dust from the over two month-long electioneering settled as parties wrapped up their campaign for the second and final phase of assembly polls in Manipur on Monday, the March 8 voting will be the ultimate test for the chief electoral officer and his poll-management teams as most of the polling stations in the second phase of the crucial adult franchise are located in the interior pockets of hill districts. Compared to the acrimonious campaign for the assembly elections in the politically sensitive Uttar Pradesh dominated by the show of strength amongst BJP, SP-Congress combine and BSP, and gloss to their campaigns was added with the political leaders offering prayers at public-frequented shrines, Manipur’s campaign was mainly centred around BJP and Congress party indulging in fierce mudslinging over multiple issues. The fate of almost all the big names in Manipur politics, including chief minister O Ibobi Singh, deputy CM Gaikhangam and human rights activist-turned-politician Irom Chanu Sharmila, will be decided. Sharmila taking on the CM in the latter’s home turf is being construed by many as an attempt to put the blame on Ibobi for the continuous imposition of the controversial pro-military AFSPA 1958. The state assembly polls, this time, is billed as a major test for the 15-year-old Congress regime which is facing a stiff challenge from the BJP, though there are also other political parties who are likely to give the top two contenders a good run for their money.

          With many insurgent groups known to prefer the dense jungles and unfriendly terrain in the hills to set up their hideouts, some of these outlawed organisations often involve in election activities, resort to acts of violence or intimidate the villagers to cast their votes for particular candidate or political parties. While armed groups, which are determined to drive home their political points, have been showing the tendency to obstruct the voting process, especially in areas where their projected candidates are unlikely to fare well, other insurgent outfits ingrained with the idea of testing their fire power tend to target security forces during elections. Violence and elections in Manipur have been synonymous as was evident during the 2012 assembly elections when violence took place in Chandel district after a group of armed militants tried to overrun a polling booth in remote Chakpikarong village. Regardless of the security personnel thwarting the bid, the brief gun-fight ensued resulting in the loss of six lives, including a CRPF jawan, one suspected militant, a woman voter and three other polling officials. Two CRPF personnel on poll duty were also killed in an ambush in Ukhrul district during the previous assembly polls. In view of the hill districts remaining virtually beyond the ambit of the state administration and substantial presence of armed outfits, the March 8 will definitely be the most challenging task for the CEO. Efficiency of the election conducting authorities in ensuring peaceful polls was proved when the first phase voting process on March 4 ended without any major poll-related incidents. However, till the second phase elections are conducted and it passes off peacefully, the CEO and his team are unlikely to have any room for relaxation.

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