The high turnout in the Lok Sabha polls in five tribal-dominated hilly states of the North-east once again proved their ‘loyalty to India’, despite separatist groups thriving there in the name of their anti-Indian stand. Nagaland, where the rebel group NSCN-IM is said to have been running a parallel government for years, voted at least 82 per cent. Yet, the figure is far below its 2009 record of 90 per cent. The state has many other rebel groups with NSCN-K being the most prominent, after the IM faction. Manipur has already earned the rare distinction of having the maximum number, nearly 50, of militant outfits. Among the five states, Meghalaya ranks third in militancy and the trend is rising, especially in Garo Hills region, unlike the Nagaland and Manipur.
There has been a ritual in these states to call election boycott and announce bandh on the polling day. This year was, however, exception barring the Khasi-Jaintia region of Meghalaya comprising six districts where the proscribed HNLC called a 12-hour bandh. But the voters braved the bandh recording at least 66 per cent turnout. The figure even breached 80 per cent mark in some areas severely affected by militancy in Garo Hills region. The ULFA, one of the most prominent rebel groups of the region, is conspicuous this time by not calling any election boycott.
The steady rise in voter turnout in these states shows the people either lost their belief in these separatist groups or increasingly eager to be part of the country’s democratic process. While a section of the people responds to bandh calls given by these groups out of fear, there is a huge section who takes advantage the situation to skip their regular duty and yet get paid. But, very few of them want to miss the once-a-five-year opportunity to cast the vote.
It is ironic that people of these hill states, where anti-India sentiment prevails more than anywhere else, are so eager to send their representatives to the parliament. Three of the five states (Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram) have inner line permit (ILP) system, which prevents free and unrestricted entry of even Indian nationals to these states. Among the rest two, Manipur already passed an assembly resolution seeking the mechanism in the state while the Congress government in Meghalaya has been battling with the growing demand for the system ‘to prevent influx of outsiders’. By voting, a citizen reposes his trust on the democratic system, which provides the right to speak, live, move and settle anywhere in the country. People in these states must learn to embrace citizens of this country as they have done with the democracy by exercising their franchise. Voting in a democracy is not just a right; with it comes a big responsibility – to be democratic.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on April 11)