OPINION: Will BJP’s Northeast juggernaut breach Mizoram?

Rajat Sethi
Kanhmun: Voters show their identity card as they stand in a queue at a polling station during the state Assembly elections, at Kanhmun, Mizoram, Wednesday, Nov.28, 2018. (PTI Photo)

Kanhmun: Voters show their identity card as they stand in a queue at a polling station during the state Assembly elections, at Kanhmun, Mizoram, Wednesday, Nov.28, 2018. (PTI Photo)

Mizoram, an otherwise quiet hill state, is in the eye of a political storm that is all set to shake the politics of the state. As the voters of the state go out and vote today, it would be a big test for the 10-year-old Congress government led by Lal Thanhawla to beat the anti-incumbency and stop BJP’s Northeast juggernaut.

Mizoram is the only state in Northeast India that has a Congress government. All the seven other states either have a BJP government or an NDA alliance government. Today will be an interesting event in Mizoram’s political history as voters decide to either let Congress retain their last Northeast bastion in Mizoram or allow the BJP to hoist its victory flag in the hills of Aizawl.

Mizoram has so far seen a bipolar polity with the Congress and Mizo National Front (MNF) as the two principal parties. Out of the forty assembly seats in Mizoram, the Congress party holds whopping 34. The MNF, led by former Chief Minister Zoramthanga is the principal opposition party holding six seats. MNF is a part of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) led by its Convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma. NEDA has acted as a unique political platform and an extension of NDA to address the political challenges of accommodating the demands of various political parties and groups in the entire Northeast region. NEDA’s and BJP’s repeated success in the Northeast has threatened the incumbents in Mizoram too.

Breaking past the bipolar politics of Mizoram, this time in addition, six small regional parties have joined hands under the name of ‘Zoram People’s Movement’ (ZPM) creating another significant impact towards deepening anti-incumbency against the Congress party. While the BJP has campaigned aggressively led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah challenging both the MNF and Congress party, it has silently strategised to avoid splitting of anti-incumbency votes. MNF (specially) and ZPM are keys for the BJP in order to stake claim on the only Congress bastion in the Northeast India.

With the Congress party facing heavy anti-incumbency, ZPM and independents banking on anti-Congress sentiments, BJP’s image becoming a deterrent for its rise in Christian majority Mizoram and the MNF battling issues with its style of functioning, a post poll alliance negotiation, something unprecedented for Mizoram, cannot be ruled out.

File photo of Mizoram Chief Minister PU Lalthanhawla.

File photo of Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla.

Though a Christian majority state, Mizoram politics in highly influenced by ‘cult leaders’ and area specific or community specific Christian leadership. The popularity of the cult influence, for instance, is so prominent that Mizoram Kohhran Hruaitute Committee, the apex body of churches signifying various denominations, agrees on 20 cults across the length and breadth of Mizoram that exert tremendous influence over followers.

The impact of cult influence can be gauged by the fact that the six candidates contesting the Tuikum seat visited 73-year-old Ziona Chana, the polygamous patriarch of the Chana cult, at Baktawng village, without fail. Chana has 38 wives, around 90 children and dozens of grandchildren. They alone account for more than 200 votes. Baktawng which has close to 1,400 voters and almost 80% of the population being followers of Ziona Chana, his word could swing it for the candidates decisively.

Also, area and community specific churches impact political choices; for instance, the Evangelical Church of Maraland that caters to the Mara community in Saiha district. Former Assembly Speaker, Hiphei, also a prominent Mara leader has been fielded by the BJP from the Palak seat.

The Bru refugees from Mizoram who have been staying in Tripura since the ethnic clashes of 1997, account for around 12000 votes. Instead of the traditional system of voting at a relief camp in Tripura for elections, this time the Brus have been given transport facility to travel to Mizoram in order to vote. Seen as a gift of return to Mizoram, their homeland, after 21 years, the Brus’ vote may hold the key for a decisive impact in favour of the BJP, this elections.

ZPM’s crusade against illegal sale of liquor to minors also comes as an added impact of the anti-liquor campaign being spearheaded by the MNF. While MNF uses a religious undertone of being a God-fearing party that will always stand against liquor mafia, responsible for deaths of thousands of people in the state, ZPM has articulated a more specific policy stand by taking a position against the illegal sale of alcohol in Mizoram.

It will be any pollsters delight to observe in which direction the Mizoram bells would chime.

 

- Rajat Sethi, Political Analyst