Skip to main content
xYOU DESERVE INDEPENDENT, CRITICAL MEDIA. We want readers like you. Support independent critical media.

Mizoram Polls: Why is Rest of India Silent on Key Political Developments

Key regional parties in this small North-Eastern state have been giving a cold shoulder to BJP, especially after the Manipur violence.
 Polling officials collect EVMs and other election material at a distribution centre ahead of voting for Mizoram Assembly elections.

 Polling officials collect EVMs and other election material at a distribution centre ahead of voting for Mizoram Assembly elections. Image Courtesy: PTI

Is there any connection between Prime Minister Narendra Modi not participating in the election campaign in Mizoram, where polling is underway for 40 Assembly seats, and media which is not covering it widely?

No special curiosity was seen in rest of India about which party would get majority the 40-seat Assembly of this small and beautiful state in North East India. This, when Mizoram is the only state where the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is involved with regional parties, where Chief Minister Zoramthanga himself refused to share the stage with Prime Minister Modi.

Not only this, the other major regional party – Zoram People's Movement (ZPM), also repeatedly reiterated that it had nothing to do with BJP.

A visit to the state made it evident that BJP is not a good name there for regional parties as well as Congress, and also the common voters. Of all the states in which Assembly elections have been held since 2014, Mizoram is probably the only one where the Prime Minister did not campaign even for a day. These are some reasons that make Mizoram and the elections in the state very special this time

What Is Special About Mizoram

Mizoram means Mizo's Ram (land). It is a Christian majority state. There are eight districts where Christians are in majority. The total population should be around 13-14 lakh, out of which Christians are 87.16%, Hindus 2.75% and Muslims 1.35%. Apart from Mizos, minority communities like Poi, Lakher, Chakma, Bru and Gorkha are also part of tribal-dominated areas.

The state has a long history of Mizo struggle, which led to the Mizo Accord in 1986, between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Mizo National Front militant leader and the state’s first chief minister, Laldenga. Under this accord, Mizos got lot of autonomy and as result an Autonomous Council was formed.

The people in the state have close ties and unity with the Chins settled in Myanmar and the tribal communities of neighbouring state. In the state, beef i.e. cow meat, is a part of everyday food. Pork and fish are also eaten extensively.

What’s Special About Mizoram's Politics?

This year’s Assembly election is special because earlier the seat of power has been rotating between two political parties -- Mizo National Front (MNF) and Congress. This time there is a third strong contender – the Zoram People's Front (ZPM). To break the binary cycle, ZPM has made elaborate preparations. The party is about five years old and its chief is Lalduhoma, who is a retired 74-year-old retired IPS (Indian Police Service) officer.

The MNF is an old established party, whose cadre base is very committed. Congress is gaining support due to Rahul Gandhi, who, when he went to Mizoram for electioneering, saw a huge fan following. The way the Congress leader talked to the common people, rode the scooty taxi created an atmosphere in favour of his party. But, even the Congress itself does not seem to be completely sure about how much this will translate into votes. Mainly the election fight here is between ZPM and MNF.

The MNF has been in power and been accused of major corruption and scams. The party’s condition was said to be bad till two-three months before the announcement of elections. But then MNF’s stand on the ethnic violence in Manipur strengthened its position. Chief Minister Zoramthanga accepted Kukis and other refugees from Manipur with respect and made arrangements for them.

Even before this, the Mizoram government had provided accommodation to Chin refugees from Myanmar and also provided them identity cards.

On both these issues, the Mizoram government defied pressure from the Modi government at the Centre and refused to get the refugees’ biometrics done.

Along with this, Chief Minister Zoramthanga also included in his election manifesto the issue of Zo (a community) unification i.e. creating a big platform to strengthen the tribal society. This prevented the MNF’s base from eroding completely.

However, MNF's continued commitment to the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance has also raised questions. Dawampuiya, who is involved in farming and agribusiness, told this writer that MNF had done good work on the ground, and the people would vote for it.

On the other side, ZPM's biggest election mantra is that till now people have seen everyone, this time it’s our term, so give us a chance.  We are new and we will give corruption-free governance, it said.

ZPM has huge support in urban areas, especially among the middle class and youth. People standing in favour of this party said that if they get a chance this time, they would make “politics clean”.

ZPM also has a strong emphasis on unification. It has also given opportunities to a large number of youth and also professionals as itsa candidates.

A smiling Scooty taxi driver Peter said, “We want to see a new face, a new name. These two parties (MNF-Congress) are tired, they will be fine if they rest”. When asked about BJP, he said, “when Modi finds it difficult to talk to us, we also find it difficult to be with him.”

Meanwhile, the Congress is seeking votes in the name of the country and democracy. The party has been saying that the country is going through a very serious crisis, hence it is important that the Congress party, which would like to take national politics towards secularism, is elected.

Congress has accused both the regional parties -- ZPM and MNF -- for giving “back door entry” to BJP to capture power in the state and has claimed that only it can properly develop Mizoram.

In the last Assembly, five MLAs from Congress had won, out of which one defected. In such a situation, it is a distant dream for Congress to come close to power on its own. But there is feeling that Congress may increase its vote share and seats. Especially, after promising the passing of Bills to secure land, forest and water for tribal people, which has strengthened its position. Due to this, enthusiasm was definitely seen among Congress workers and leaders in the state.

Now let's talk about BJP.  The party won one Assembly seat in the last Assembly elections. The entire emphasis of BJP is on non-Christian minority communities, like Bru, Gorkha, Chakma etc. It is making a strong bid on some seats in South Mizoram, such as Siah and Lawanthangai. This time BJP is contesting only on 23 seats, whereas in the last Assembly polls, it had contested on 30 seats.

The BJP is set to suffer a huge loss due to the way the Kuki community was attacked in Manipur and had to flee to save their lives. There is wider opinion that BJP is an “anti-Christian” party and that is why MNF Chief Minister Zoramthanga, who claims to be a founding member of NDA, had to distance himself from BJP. Sensing grassroots opposition, Prime Minister Modi did not come to Mizoram for campaign and one of his scheduled programmes had to be cancelled.

The big question that is haunting BJP in Mizoram is that neighbouring Manipur has been burning since May 3 and the Prime Minister has kept his silence and did not do anything to calm down the situation. A BJP campaigner said it was difficult for them to gather crowds as people feel BJP has a “direct connection in the violence in Manipur.”

However, if top BJP leaders are to be believed, they are confident that no matter who forms the government, it will have to come under their protection. BJP's Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal openly said that “people of Mizoram know that if further development is required in the state, then a government will have to be formed under BJP leadership.”

Ticket to Women Candidates

As far as giving representation to women is concerned, Mizoram is very backward. There was not a single woman MLA in the 2018 Assembly. This time, too, the three major parties -- MNF, ZPM and Congress -- have given only two seats to women candidates.

When young women were asked about it, they blamed patriarchy. Patriarchy in Mizoram is also closely related to the political dominance of the Church. Churches have considerable dominance in the politics of Mizoram. The Young Mizo Association (YMA) is also an influential organisation.

Social worker Ruth said that the Mizo society looks modern from the outside, but within, it is not what it looks like. Patriarchy prevails. Women are not acceptable in politics, whereas women run the economy of the entire Mizoram, she said. When women contest elections, they are deliberately defeated, she added.

Giving the example of these elections, she said that as soon as the name of a woman candidate for Congress was announced, people started insulting and started her character assassination. But it was good that his organisation and the Congress party did not succumb to any pressure.

The writer is an independent journalist who visited Mizoram recently. The views are personal

Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.

Subscribe Newsclick On Telegram