Aizawl: Mizoram united in one voice on Tuesday as thousands of people staged a mass protest and picketed in front of the Election office demanding the removal of state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shashank following a call by NGO Co-ordination Committee, an umbrella body of major civil society organizations and students associations to oust the CEO for his alleged ‘pro Brus’ stance against the interest of the people.
The peaceful demonstration, which was considered to be the greatest in Mizoram’s history having involvement of all walks of life, came days after state principal secretary for home Lalnunmawia Chuaungo was removed and barred from his work by Election Commission following an allegation levelled by Shashank that the latter had directly interfered in election process and security arrangement for the upcoming assembly polls which are likely to have adverse affect on the conduct of free and fair elections in the state.
The NGO Coordination Committee on 2 November sought Shashank’s ouster from the state by Monday evening failing which it threatened mass protest involving the Mizo community.
Along with Aizawl, protest rally was held in different parts of the state under the aegis of NGO Coordination Committee, while in Mamit in Western Mizoram, a total shutdown was observed, to intensify the demand for removal of the CEO.
All government offices, schools and business establishments remained closed during the protest.
In Aizawl, protesters carried several placards that reads- “We no longer trust Shashank working as CEO,” and “Even the Mizos have to come to vote, why give special consideration to the Brus, who do not want to return even after 20 years,” and so on.
The streets were echoed with a slogan- “Mr. Shashank go back and leave Mizoram immediately”.
The protesters also warned the Election Commission that it will be its responsibility if Mizoram’s record of holding the most peaceful elections in the country since 1972 turned into a nightmare.
Addressing a protest rally here, NGO Co-Ordination Committee chairman and YMA president Vanlalruata alleged that Shashank was creating a rift in the Mizo society when he was suppose to work for the conduct of free and fair elections.
He said that Mizoram has good track record of conducting elections under fair and peaceful atmosphere since 1972.
Accusing the government of India of neglecting the voices of the Mizos, Vanlalruata warned that the Mizo people will look towards other East Asian countries if the government continues to neglect the state.
He also questioned the government if it did not consider Mizoram as part of India.
Citing that their main demand was immediate removal of the CEO, the YMA president said they will cooperate with the EC to ensure free and fair elections if Shashank is removed.
Ramdinliana Renthlei, president of state apex student body Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) said while the Indian government paid sincere attention to the Bru issues, the voices of the Mizo people have been always unheard.
He warned the rerun of Mizoram uprising in 1966 if the government of India continues to neglect and pay a deaf year to the voices of the Mizo people.
Renthlei also warned that Mizoram will turn into turmoil if the Election Commission allows Bru people to exercise franchise outside the state.
Trouble started in the northeastern state after Mr Shashank wrote to the Election Commission, complaining of direct interference by the home secretary, in the revision of electoral rolls of Bru voters in Tripura and asked the poll panel to remove him from his post.
Acting swift to the complaint, the Election Commission on 2 November removed home secretary Lalnunmawia Chuaungo, a 1987-batch Gujarat-cadre IAS officer and barred him from his duty till elections are over.
The unprecedented move of the EC has infuriated civil society groups to serve “quit Mizoram notice” to Shashank and asked him to leave the state by Monday.
Fleeing communal tension triggered by the murder of a Mizo forest guard by Bru militants in 1997, thousands of Bru fled Mizoram and live in six transit camps in Tripura since that year.
Several attempts to repatriate them turned futile.
The civil society groups are of the opinion that the Bru people, who are reluctant to return should not be allowed to exercise their franchise outside the state.
Meanwhile, the EC sent a three-member delegation to Aizawl on Tuesday, who were greeted by people with black flags on their way to the capital from Lengpui Aizawl.
The delegation met leaders of civil society organization in the evening. The result of the meeting is not known till this report is filed.