Centre rushes to include Bru refugees in voter list

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GUWAHATI, July 5: The Centre is rushing at breakneck speed to ensure a smooth homecoming for Mizoram’s 32,875 displaced Bru people after their 21-year-long exile in Tripura, all in time for the assembly election later this year.
Besides setting strict deadlines for the resettlement process – including setting up bank accounts and allocating additional land for construction of toilets – the Centre has set a September deadline to update the names of the refugees on the voter list. Mizoram, the last remaining Congress bastion in the northeast and the only state in the region not ruled by BJP or its allies, is slated to go to the polls in December.
In 2014, the Election Commission had carried out a special revision of voters in the six refugee camps of north Tripura where the Bru families were living. A total of 11,243 voters were eventually included in Mizoram’s electoral rolls and allowed to vote in the Lok Sabha election through postal ballots. The move had met stiff opposition from several Mizoram organizations, who said the Brus should not be allowed to vote if they did not stay in Mizoram.
BJP dismissed the possibility of any political dividends as a result of the move. “It’s good that they are returning to Mizoram. We should all live together. But I wouldn’t say that BJP will reap the benefits in terms of votes in December. Congress has a strong base among Bru voters, as does the Mizo National Front,” president of the BJP’s Mizoram unit JV Hluna said.
He did not, however, shy away from claiming a victory for the saffron party. “We are concerned that though the Centre was instrumental in the repatriation of the Bru families, the implementation of the repatriation schemes will be under the aegis of the state government, which is ruled by Congress. We are a new party here. We are working hard,” Hluna added.
The Centre has also promised to make land available for the Bru families in Mizoram to practise jhum cultivation. In addition, if a new land use policy scheme is undertaken by Mizoram government, these repatriated families will be included in the new scheme.
A special development project to set up Eklavya Residential schools will be undertaken and permanent residential certificates and ST certificate will be issued within one month of their repatriation by Mizoram government, besides a special development programme to be launched by the DoNER ministry.
The Brus, also called Reangs, have been living in six relief camps in North Tripura’s Kanchanpur areas adjoining Mizoram since 1997 after they fled their homes following ethnic violence. The displaced families are from Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram – the majority from Mamit – but they trace their origin to the Shan state in Myanmar, from where they migrated a few centuries ago.
The unrest also saw the birth of armed Bru groups – the Bru National Liberation Front in 1996 and Bru Liberation Front of Mizoram in 2003 – all of whom surrendered in 2005 after signing a peace agreement with the state government, which paved the way for the repatriation process to begin. It was, however, derailed after a fresh bout of violence and exodus of Bru families in 2009.
A new attempt in 2014 culminated in the agreement – signed by the Mizoram and Tripura governments, the Centre and the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum – on Tuesday in New Delhi. (TNN)