Mizoram Assembly Polls: Will BJP Succeed with its Strategy of Consolidating Minority Votes?
Image Courtesy: PTI
"Well, the BJP is making significant efforts in Mizoram this time, especially in Mamit, but all that may not be sufficient to secure a victory here," said Dr Hanmte, a faculty member at the government Mamit College, who was waiting to cast his postal vote at the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Mamit. Hnamte was among those assigned election duties.
Mamit constituency is certainly important this time – evident from the focus that the BJP has placed on it. PM Narendra Modi was initially supposed to address a public gathering in the constituency, which was later cancelled. Union Home Minister Amit Shah too planned to visit, but that was cancelled as well. Finally, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh landed in the constituency. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has campaigned in the Dampa constituency before. Moreover, the BJP candidate from Mamit, Lalrinliana Sailo, was the speaker of the Mizoram Assembly and was part of the Mizo National Front (MNF). Just a few days before the announcement of the election dates, he resigned from the MNF and joined the BJP.
BJP'S STRATEGIC FOCUS ON MINORITIES
Across Mizoram, a common theme that has dominated discussions has been the BJP's strategy. NewsClick spoke with Vanramropuia Sailo, associate professor at Mamit College, who is of the opinion that the BJP is focusing on uniting the minority communities –particularly the Chakma and Bru, in Mizoram. This view is widely shared in Mizoram.
"See, no Mizo people will vote for the BJP," said one government official who chose to remain anonymous. "First, the BJP relies on the Hindutva plank and they seem to have a negative attitude towards Christians. Second, the central government and the state government of Manipur could not protect our kin – the people belonging to the Zo family. How can one trust them?" he asked.
"But they are employing another tactic, which is targeting the non-Mizo votes, especially the Chakmas and the Brus. These communities have a significant presence in Mamit," the official added. "That's why the BJP is trying hard here, with all the bigshots, including the PM and the Union home minister planning to visit Mamit earlier. But the Mizoram CM refused to share the stage with Modi ji, and he probably cancelled his visit for that reason."
Mamit district is made up of three constituencies: Dampa, Hachhek, and Mamit itself. In the Mamit constituency, there are approximately 23,000 voters, out of which over 7,000 are Brus and Chakmas. The BJP is making efforts to consolidate these 7,000 votes to the maximum extent, according to locals in Mamit. However, a report indicates that according to the BJP, the combined minority voters would add up to about 12,000.
Ramdina, the editor of Mamit Times, a leading newspaper in Mamit, while speaking to NewsClick, said, “I can't imagine a situation where the BJP wins here." Agreeing that the BJP is trying to consolidate the minority votes here by dividing the electorate, he commented, "Some votes may get divided, but not all of the minority communities are going to vote for the BJP, for sure. However, this will be a tight fight, where the MNF and the ZPM (Zoram People's Movement) candidates are expected to perform well.” Ramdina also said that the combined minority votes will account for 7,000-8,000.
The Zoram People's Movement has been perceived as an emerging force in Mizoram this time and may become a strong contender for forming the government. A relatively new party, the ZPM won in six constituencies in the last election.
NewsClick spoke with Mr Vana, a lawyer by profession and an election agent of the ZPM in Mamit. He seconded the view on the BJP’s strategic focus on minorities and claimed, "I won't be surprised if they [BJP] engage in some mischievous activities before the election. On the day of nomination filing, the deputy CM of Nagaland was present at the Deputy Commissioner's office. We saw many people who were not from Mamit, nor from Mizoram. They were brought from other states, for sure."
"Mizo or Zo nationalism is a significant issue in Mizoram, and Mizo people cannot trust the BJP. The party will not be able to secure all the minority votes either. I don't think the BJP will win in Mamit," he said.
"The BJP is strong in terms of money. We, especially the ZPM, suffer from a huge scarcity of funds. We are a new party, fighting for the people's cause. We cannot bribe voters; all we can do is earn their trust," Vana said.
HOW HELPFUL WILL THE DIVISION OF VOTES BE IN MAMIT?
This is not the first time the saffron party has employed this strategy. Political observers believe that in the 2018 election, the party had used the same approach but lost, with MNF snatching the victory.
BJP candidate Lalrinliana Sailo, who was the Assembly speaker and an MNF leader, had won from the Chalfilh constituency in Aizawl district.
"But there could be a different situation this time," said an official in Mamit. "If the Mizo votes get divided among the MNF, ZPM, and the INC, then the BJP may have a chance. However, I think the MNF is stronger."
"In the Hachhek constituency, the fight is between the INC and the MNF, while the Dampa seat is interesting, where the MNF candidate is the sitting MLA, the BJP has the state president as the candidate, and the INC candidate was previously with the ZPM," she said, suggesting that the BJP may not have a chance there.
NewsClick spoke to a representative of the Central Young Chakma Association (CYCA), who said, "Thinking that Chakmas will vote for the BJP just like that is not right in Mizoram. They say a lot about Mamit, but one should look at other places as well. For example, the Tuichawng constituency, where the lone BJP candidate [Buddha Dhan Chakma] won in 2018. He has now retired from politics, and the current candidate, Durya Dhan Chakma, switched parties only last month, from MNF to BJP."
"People in Mizoram don't believe people who change their parties frequently," she said, hinting that the constituency may slip from the BJP's grasp.
She added, "People in the Chakma community now say that veteran leaders of our community are not fielded by the BJP. This is an indication that there may be defections."
It is worth mentioning that it is not in Mamit district alone; the BJP is also looking at other constituencies like Siaha and Palak in the Southern part of the Lawngtlai district bordering Myanmar, where minority voters play a role. Rajnath Singh went to Siaha as well, and in his address in Mamit, he spoke about 'heart-to-heart' conversations between the Meitei and Zo people while referring to violence in Manipur. Many see this as a move made by the BJP leader to mitigate damage in Mizoram. "But that is very unlikely to improve the BJP's image in Mizoram, especially among the Mizos," said Shana, a local youth in Mamit, who earns his livelihood as a taxi driver. "Rather, unemployed youths are more concerned about jobs, corruption-free governance, and the improvement of the state's economic conditions. Zo nationalism is important, and all parties except the BJP are the same in Mizoram; so, the key issue is jobs and prosperity," he said.
What Shana said reflects the youth's aspirations in Mizoram this time. All things considered, the BJP may be staring at a rocky road ahead in the Northeastern state.
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