India Re-Runs Elections in Manipur, Scene of Rampant Anti-Christian Mob Violence


India’s election authority voided the results of the parliamentary vote from 11 locations in the troubled state of Manipur on Monday and held a do-over with heavy security, in response to complaints that armed men interfered with voting and destroyed some of the balloting machines.

India is currently holding the world’s largest democratic election for the lower house of its parliament, known as the Lok Sabha. India is so demographically and geographically enormous that the election had to be broken into multiple phases, spread across six weeks. Balloting began on April 19, while the final results will not be tallied until June 4.

It was no great surprise that the massive election ran into trouble in Manipur, a region divided for years by tribal violence between the Meitei Hindus who live in the lowlands and the Christian Kuki tribes who dwell in the hills.

Indian National Congress party supporters attend a public meeting attended by party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in support of candidate Sowmya Reddy at Atal Bihari Vajpayee Stadium in Bengaluru on April 23, 2024, ahead of the second phase of the voting of country’s general election. (IDREES MOHAMMED/AFP via Getty Images)

Manipur is tense at the best of times, but roughly a year ago the tensions erupted into anti-Christian riots displacing tens of thousands of people, provoked by a high court ruling that the majority Meitei should enjoy the same privileges of a protected minority that had long been extended to the hill tribes.

Violence ebbed and flowed throughout the ensuing year, occasionally rising to the level of a civil war in the province, and the Manipur situation became a hot topic of national politics, as the opposition Congress party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party of mismanaging the crisis, ignoring the plight of the Christian hill tribes, or actively siding with the Hindu Meitei.

The U.S. State Department on Monday reported “significant” abuses in Manipur in its annual assessment of human rights around the world:

Media reported at least 175 persons were killed and more than 60,000 displaced between May 3 and November 15. Activists and journalists reported armed conflict, rapes, and assaults in addition to the destruction of homes, businesses, and places of worship. The government deployed security forces, implemented daily curfews, and internet shutdowns in response to the violence. The Supreme Court criticized the failure of the central government and the Manipur state government to halt the violence and appointed officials to investigate incidents of violence and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the rebuilding of homes and places of worship.

Manipur voted in the first phase of the giant Lok Sabha election, with heavy turnout reported despite the ongoing threat of Christian persecution. Sporadic fighting was reported across the state on Friday.

The Congress party soon demanded a rerun of the election with enhanced security at 47 polling places, bringing charges that the vote was rigged in BJP’s favor and voting was disrupted by armed gangs.

In one instance, a riot broke out at a polling station in eastern Manipur after the presiding officers were accused of stuffing the ballot box with dubious proxy votes. Police had to use tear gas to bring the situation under control. Several injuries were reported, including the presiding officers, who were pelted with stones by protesters.

Security personnel deployed at Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) center at Phool Mandi counting center on April 22, 2024 in Noida, India. (Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Another polling station was invaded by armed men who fired shots to drive away voters, while voting machines and security cameras were destroyed at a third. One woman complained that proxy votes had already been cast in the names of every member of her family when they arrived at their polling place.

Numerous complaints of “booth capture” by gangs were reported from Manipur’s capital city of Imphal. It was not clear from early reports who was doing the capturing; in one instance, thugs reportedly injured an elderly man while he was trying to vote, and an angry mob retaliated by setting fire to the polling station. The Congress party alleged that most of the booth captures and suspicious proxy votes were perpetrated by BJP supporters.

Congress did not get its desired 47 recounts, but election officials did order do-overs at 11 locations, with thousands of extra security troops deployed. The Hindu reported on Monday that the re-vote was “mostly peaceful” and Manipur wound up with 76 percent turnout, down a little from the 82 percent turnout in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.


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