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EC team in poll-bound Mizoram seeks to end standoff over sacking of official

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Election Commission

Aizawl, Nov 9:  A high-level Election Commission team on Friday held a series of meetings, including with the Mizoram NGO Coordination Committee (MNCC), which has been spearheading a state-wide protest calling for removal of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and reinstatement of the ousted Principal Secretary (Home).

“The EC team headed by Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, immediately after their arrival in Aizawl on Friday afternoon, started holding meetings with various groups and Church leaders. The EC officials first held meetings with the leaders of MNCC and also with the state government and election department officials,” an official of the Mizoram Election Department said.

The outcomes of the meetings were not yet known. Also, it was not clear how the ongoing standoff would be resolved.

The official said that the EC team, comprising four officials, was likely visit one or two district headquarters on Saturday to study the preparedness of the November 28 polls to the 40-member Mizoram assembly.

The other members of the EC team include Jharkhand CEO Lalbiakthanga Khiangte, EC Secretary S.B. Joshi and Mizoram’s Additional CEO Lalzarmawii.

The current visit by the poll panel team led by Jain follows a similar exercise by a three-member team of the Election Commission on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The leaders of MNCC, led by Mizoram’s most powerful NGO, Young Mizo Association, started the agitation on Tuesday demanding removal of CEO S.B. Shashank after Principal Secretary (Home) Lalnunmawia Chuaungo was removed on an Election Commission order.

The MNCC is also demanding that 11,232 voters among the tribal refugees lodged in seven Tripura relief camps be allowed to exercise their franchise at their respective polling stations in Mizoram and not in Tripura, as committed by the poll panel in 2014.

The MNCC’s agitation was supported by Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and his ruling party Congress and opposition parties including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Election Department official said that the MNCC temporarily called off their protests late Wednesday evening after Shashank left Aizawl for New Delhi to meet Chief Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat and others.

MNCC Chairperson Vanlalruata said that they would not “allow” the assembly elections if the Election Commission did not meet their demands.

“The Reang tribal refugees, registered as voters of Mizoram but sheltered in Tripura, should cast their votes from Mizoram. The CEO must be replaced. Unless the EC agrees to these, no election can be conducted in Mizoram,” Vanlalruata said.

The 35,000 Reang tribals, taking shelter in Tripura for over 21 years, have demanded setting up of polling stations in refugee camps in northern Tripura so that the 11,232 voters among them could cast their votes.

The Reang tribal refugees, comprising 5,907 families, fled Mizoram and have been staying in Tripura’s Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions since October 1997 following ethnic tension after a Mizo forest official was killed.

The CEO in his report to the Election Commission reportedly said that Chuaungo was creating obstacles in allowing the Reang tribals to vote in the November 28 polls to constitute the 40-member Assembly.

Chuaungo, a native of the tribal dominated Mizoram, is a Gujarat-cadre IAS officer.

The MNCC in a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner said that the Election Commission must stick to the written commitment made by the poll panel in April 2014.

“The EC had made a written commitment before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that a provision would be made to ensure that the Reang tribal refugees, sheltered in Tripura, are able to vote within Mizoram in future polls,” said the MNCC letter, which was submitted to the three-member EC team that visited the state on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meanwhile, on the last day of filing nominations on Friday, a large number of nominees submitted their candidatures.

IANS

Election

CPI-M and Cong holding talks, to rally in Kolkata on Nov 23

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has accused AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi of trying to benefit the BJP. Owaisi has denied the charge and maintained that he was running a political party and contest elections wherever the party wishes.

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Congress

New Delhi: A joint rally of the Congress and CPI-M slated to be held on Monday in Kolkata on Monday is a step towards an alliance ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections as informal talks on the issue are on, Congress sources said on Sunday.

The West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (WBPCC) and the Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M) will rally on November 23 to protest against the alleged ‘anti-people’ policies of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre.

The BJP has already started preparation to take on the ruling Trinamool Congress. The Congress and the Left will face challenges from the TMC, BJP and AIMIM in the state polls.

Party insiders said that both parties will chalk out joint political programmes across various Bengal districts to emerge as a third political alternative in the Assembly polls.

“Both the parties met to prepare the road map for the coming Assembly polls,” the sources said.

CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury has said that defeating the TMC and the BJP is a priority for his party as he blames the TMC for BJP inroads in the eastern state. The West Bengal could see three-cornered contest with AIMIM giving an edge to the BJP, as was seen in Bihar Assembly polls.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen has reportedly offered an alliance with TMC and awaiting a response. Howver, it’s unlikely that the TMC will join hands with AIMIM, considering it will give the BJP an advantage, the sources pointed out.

As many as 90 seats in the 294-member West Bengal Assembly have sizeable Muslim voters, who can be a deciding factor in any poll battle. Even if the AIMIM may not win many seats in Bengal, it can surely play a Bihar-like spoilsport for the TMC and the Congress.

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has accused AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi of trying to benefit the BJP. Owaisi has denied the charge and maintained that he was running a political party and contest elections wherever the party wishes.

Muslims in West Bengal account for 27 per cent of the total voters, a majority of them going along with the TMC and the Congress in the past.

The BJP won 18 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections and any further division of Muslim votes in Assembly elections will only benefit it.

The districts of Murshidabad, Malda, and North Dinajpur have more than 50 per cent Muslim population while Birbhum, North and South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Nadia have more than 25 per cent Muslims.

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Farooq writes to J-K poll panel: PAGD candidates not allowed to canvass, confined to ‘secure locations’

Meanwhile, the PAGD vice-president and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti also raised the issue and called for the intervention of J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.

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Farooq Abdullah

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and president of newly formed People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) Farooq Abdullah has shot off a letter to J&K Election Commissioner K K Sharma, complaining that the Alliance’s candidates were being denied a level playing field in the upcoming polls for the District Development Councils (DDC) in the name of security.

The letter was sent amid the allegations by the People’s Alliance that the police is preventing its candidates from campaigning by lodging them into “secure” accommodations in the name of security.

“I am taking the liberty of writing to you about the upcoming DDC elections. A strange and a unique feature has come to the fore. Candidates put up by the PAGD are immediately whisked away to ‘secure locations’ in the name of security and confined to those ‘secure locations’,” Abdullah wrote in the letter. “They are not allowed to canvass, they are completely out of touch with those from whom they are supposed to seek votes.”

In his letter, Abdullah has accused the government of “interfering” in the democratic process.

“The current state of affairs in the realm of security is blatantly oriented towards providing security to a select few and confining others,” Abdullah said in an apparent reference to the BJP and PAGD candidates, respectively. “This comes across more as an attempt to interfere in the democratic process than any real concern for the wellbeing of the contestants. Security cannot and should not be used as a tool or an excuse to interfere in democratic processes.”

Abdullah, in his letter, also stated that it was the job of the government to provide security to the candidates contesting the DDC polls.

“Security is a challenge and it is for the government of the day to counter that challenge in a manner which is fair and transparent,” Abdullah said, adding that: “Providing security to a select few and literally interning the rest is a gross interference in democracy.”

Saying that the journey of democracy in J&K is soaked in blood, Abdullah has termed the government “interference” in the polls as “desecration of those sacrifices”.

“May I add that the evolution of democracy in J and K is distinctive compared to any other part of the country. The journey is a bloodied journey, soaked in the blood of thousands of political workers who have laid down their lives for the sake of democracy. It is a desecration of those sacrifices when the very conflict that consumed their lives is used as an alibi to customize democracy,” Abdullah has written.

“Democracy is still in a state of fragility in J and K. Governments come and go. No government has the right to alter the institutional foundations of democracy in J and K, nourished by the sacrifices of thousands of political workers,” he added.

Abdullah said that being in power in the past, they are aware of the security challenges in J&K. “Our parties have been in power in the past and have had the opportunity to head and run the government. We are aware of the challenges posed in the realm of security in a place beset by violence,” the letter read. “These challenges are not new but have been painfully persisting for the last three decades. But the government had structures in place which ensured security for all contestants irrespective of the ideology they espoused or the parties they represented.”

Meanwhile, the PAGD vice-president and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti also raised the issue and called for the intervention of J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.

“GOI sabotaging participation of non-BJP parties in DDC polls. PDPs Bashir Ahmed despite having adequate security has been detained at Pahalgam on the pretext of security. Today is the last day for filing nominations & have spoken to DC Anantnag for his release,” Mufti tweeted.

In the first phase of the DDC elections scheduled to be held on November 28, 167 candidates are in the fray from 10 districts in the Valley. In the second phase, 227 candidates have filed their nomination (subject to scrutiny) papers, and nominations for the third phase are still being received.

The decision of mainstream parties to contest DDC polls is likely to open up political space after almost 15 months since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and downgrading of the state into two Union Territories last August.

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57 per cent Bihar ministers have declared criminal cases against them: ADR

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Nitish Oath

New Delhi: Eight of the 14 newly sworn-in ministers in Bihar have declared criminal cases against themselves, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

Six (43 per cent) of the ministers have declared serious criminal cases against themselves, according to the poll rights group. Serious criminal cases are non-bailable offences with over five years of imprisonment.

Affidavits of two out of six ministers analysed from the JD(U), four out of six ministers analysed from the BJP, one minister analysed from the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and one from the Vikassheel Insaan Party show criminal cases against them, it said.

Eight or 57 per cent of the ministers face criminal cases, it said.

As many as 13 (93 per cent) are crorepatis with their average assets pegged at Rs 3.93 crores, the report said.

The minister with the highest declared total assets is Mewa Lal Choudhary from Tarapur constituency with assets worth Rs 12.31 crore and the minister with the lowest declared total assets is Ashok Chaudhary with assets worth Rs 72.89 lakh, it said.

Four (29 per cent) ministers have declared their educational qualification to be between 8th and 12th standard, while 10 (71 per cent) ministers have declared having an educational qualification of graduate or above, the poll rights body said.

A total of six (43 per cent) ministers have declared their age to be between 41-50 years, while eight (57 per cent) ministers have declared their age to be between 51-75 years. Out of 14 ministers, two are women, it added.

The Bihar assembly elections for 243 sets took place on October 28 (for 71 seats), November 3 (for 94 seats) and November 7 (for 78 seats). The National Democratic Alliance won the elections after securing majority.

A 14-member council of ministers, headed by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, was on Monday sworn in by Governor Phagu Chauhan.

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