■ Dwaipayan

The 40-member Mizoram State Assembly elections, as in four other States, are being held today. All inquisitive eyes must now be concentrated on Mizoram nestling in the long 630-mile sensitive zone bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, for two fundamental reasons. One, Mizoram is incidentally the last citadel of the ruling Congress in the North-eastern region, and, the other is the electoral fortune of the BJP that largely hinges on its ability to make the Christian-dominated State Congress-mukt, as the saffron brigade has already done though in alliance with its likeminded parties in Nagaland where in the last February Assembly polls, the Congress drew a blank. 
Mizoram PoliticianMizoram Politician

Meghalaya and Nagaland, as one is aware of, are both Christiandominated States. In spite of it, what the BJP did in these two States during their last February Assembly elections was just a miracle. It made inroads into the vote banks of the Congress in particular, roped in influential leaders and ensured its easy access to both the NPP-led multi-party government in Meghalaya with a mere two seats and the Rio-led NDPP establishment in Nagaland with 12 seats in its kitty. Emboldened with huge success in playing the king and the kingmaker in the remaining six States in the region, the Hindutva leaders are palpably determined to oust the two-term serving Lal Thanhawla-led Congress Government in Mizoram from power. This has had its expression in more ways than one. One is the party senior leaders’ recent assertion that they would leave no stone unturned to unseat the ruling Congress in the State “to paint the North-east with the saffron colour”. 

Mizoram PoliticianLalthanhawl Congress Mizoram

Second, this time the party has fielded 39 as against 17 candidates in the 2013 Assembly polls. And, finally, in order to be sure of its succeeding in its strategy to either form a next government on its own or through a post-poll alliance in the event of a fractured mandate, the BJP national honchos like the star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to the State on November 22 last and campaigned for the party. Earlier, its president Amit Shah visited Mizoram and addressed three mammoth poll rallies there. So if the Congress suffers reverses, there will be an end to its prolonged political hegemony in the State politics. On the other hand, if the BJP notches up success, it will emerge as a strong national entity in the region. But, will it succeed in its strategy? Credibility or popularity is what is considered as the asset of a political party. But, the Congress’s popularity is now on the wane due to several reasons. One is the recent resignation of as many as five senior party legislators following difference of opinions with their party leadership on various crucial issues. The prominent leaders, R Lalzirliana and L Sailo resigned from the Congress party for the Lal Thanawla-led State Government’s failure to make functional three districts. These two leaders joined the MNF. BD Chakma and Wiphei joined the BJP, while another party leader W Khiangte will contest as an independent. Second, the ruling party’s alleged failure to prohibit alcohol consumption. As a news report suggests, in recent years, many young people died due to liquor consumption. Third, the poor shape of basic infrastructure such as roads, etc. Last but not the least, the alleged corruption at almost all levels of the administration.

All these goings-on have diluted the image of the ruling party in large measure, but it may not affect its prospects much because of some reasons favouring it. One reason is Mizoram itself. Having been a predominantly Christian State with 85% or more of its population being Christian, it has traditionally been a bastion of both the Congress and the MNF. The other reason is that this time the Congress dropped eight sitting MLAs and brought in 12 new entrants, 33% of whom being below 40 years of age, the youngest debutant Lalhmachhuana is only 37 years. If viewed from proper perspective, the Congress can be expected to emerge as the largest party and form a coalition government with the support of patent ethnic political entities like the MNF, ZPM, Zoram Thar, a new outfit, and PRISM. Reverting to the BJP, it, like the Congress and the MNF, is contesting the polls separately. The party stands a chance of at least being a minor partner of any non-Congress multi-party government under MNF in the event of a hung Assembly, if it fails to garner even a razor-thin majority. Winning half a dozen or more seats this time for the purpose is possible on its part if the BJP leaders manage few seats in the Bru-dominated Assembly segments in Mizoram. NEDA chairman Himanta Biswa Sarma has gone to their relief camps in Tripura on November 18 last and tried to convince them. 

The MNF led by Zoramthangaa has been a potent force as the Congress. As such, the State has witnessed power changing between the Congress and the MNF ever since Mizoram became a fullfledged State. In terms of vote share, the difference between the two parties is small. For example, in 2008 and 2013 Assembly polls, MNF polled 31% and 29% vote shares respectively against the Congress’s 39% and 45% vote shares respectively during the corresponding years. This time, the regional party as a part of their campaign has boosted its electoral prospects with its promises to implement the much-talked-about National Register of Citizens (NRC) to detect and deport the illegal immigrants in the State, and prohibit alcohol consumption. As the regional party still has enough of clout among the Christian voters, it is possible that the MNF can affect the poll strategy of the saffron party. If the regional party fails to garner the magic number on its own, even then it will not be any surprise if it forms a rainbow-type government with the support of other regional parties like NPP, the ruling party in Meghalaya, a constituent of the BJP-led NEDA as MNF is, ZPM, PRISM and even the Congress. 

Indeed, in the defining moment, the new entrants in Mizoram polls can boost their own prospects of playing lead in forming a coalition government. ZPM, a powerful combine made up of seven ethnic parties, is contesting 39 seats. The new entrant PRISM, converted from an anti-corruption watchdog into a political outfit in 2017, is also a force to reckon with. Both these parties can engineer the division of the Christian votes between the Congress, MNF and BJP, and brighten their prospects.

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