Mizoram, the last bastion of the Congress in northeast India that went to vote on 28 November and expects the poll outcome on 11 December, may be a playground for power-hungry politicians, as the prediction indicates a hung Assembly, where the ruling Congress may find it difficult to earn again the needed number of seats in the 40-member State Legislative Assembly.
On the other hand, the main opposition party, Mizo National Front (MNF), which failed in the last two Assembly polls (2008 and 2013), is expecting a comeback this time. The third important entry may emerge in the form of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which aims to win a few seats with the help of minority (read non- Mizo) votes. The saffron party thus expects to play the role of kingmaker in the formation of government at Aizawl.
Leaving aside the poll outcome, the frontier State has already earned appreciation for a peaceful election, where over 80 per cent of the electorate exercised their franchise through electronic voting machines (EVM) in a free and fair atmosphere. Need not to mention that the tiny State, bordering Myanmar in the east and Bangladesh in the west, is recognized as one of the most peaceful and also literate States in the country.
Mostly covered by hilly terrain, Mizoram has a population of about 10 lakh where 60 per cent of the people are dependent on agriculture, mostly the Jhum (slash and burn) cultivation. It is almost a homogenous society as 94 per cent of Mizoram residents are tribal and over 80 per cent are Christian including few religious minority communities like Chakma and Bru (also known as Riyang). Hence undoubtedly the Christian priests and Christian-influenced outfits have overwhelming influence over Mizo society.
The State has over 7,70,000 voters out of which 3,94,897 are women. As per the 2011 Census, the State recorded 976 females per 1,000 males (better than the national statistic of 943 per 1,000). More female workers are registered in different sectors, but the participation of women candidates in the electoral battles remain pitiful till today.
Notably, the last State Assembly was without any female legislator. Mizoram has mostly been ruled by the Congress since the peace accord was signed in 1986 with the Mizo uprising leader Pu Laldenga. Soon his armed outfit (MNF) returned to the mainstream as a registered political party and even ruled the State for some time. After Laldenga, his second-in-command Zoram Thanga started leading the party. Zoram Thanga, 74, ruled the State as chief minister for two terms and this time he is expecting a fair outcome in the poll battle where his party has fielded 40 candidates.
On the other hand, the present chief minister and Congress veteran Pu Lalthanhawla, 76, is also waiting for a satisfactory result defying the incumbency factors. He claimed that out of 40 Congress-nominated candidates, at least 27 would win. Significantly, his expectation is lesser than the number of legislators the Congress presently has in the Assembly (34 in contrast to five MNF legislators and one Mizoram People’s Conference member).
Even though it found it difficult to nurture political support in a Christian- dominated state like Mizoram, the saffron party tried its best to make an inroad as most of the BJP heavyweights participated in poll campaign meetings there. Besides its national president Amit Shah, the BJP fielded Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Rajnath Singh, DoNER minister Jitendra Singh and few others in the campaign.
The BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) is already visible in the region and it has formed alliances to rule Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Sikkim. NEDA convener and Assam’s powerful minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was present in Mizoram during the poll campaign, admitted that they may not win large number of seats but he asserted that ‘no political party will be able to form the government in Aizawl without the support from BJP’.
Pursuing the mission to erase Congress rule slowly but steadily, the saffron party rests its hopes on minority Bru voters in northern Mizoram.
According to the State chief electoral officer Ashish Kundra, over 6,280 Bru refugees participated in the exercise. They had altogether 11,987 registered voters presently taking shelter in six relief camps of bordering Tripura. In the last Assembly polls, they had to vote in the camps, but special arrangements were made this time in Mamit district with 15 temporary polling stations so that they could come to cast their votes.
The Bru people left Mizoram as ethnic clashes erupted in 1997, when the majority Mizo community targeted Bru families. They took shelter in northern Tripura and talks are still going on for full repatriation of those families in Mizoram. Brus, who are not Christians by religion, are expected to support the saffron party, which has fielded 39 candidates across Mizoram.
But Congress leaders in Mizoram are understood to be as determined to prevent the BJP from playing any significant role in the post-poll scenario. The country’s oldest party leadership made it clear that they would support any party (except BJP and MNF) to form the government and its welcome message may reach Zoram People’s Movement, PRISM (People’s Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram) etc in the days to come.
The writer is the Guwahati-based Special Representative of The Statesman.