From Minority Tribes to Prohibition: Five Key Factors That Will Determine Fate of Mizoram
With 10 years of anti-incumbency, as other Congress leaders from the north east fade away with the BJP increasing its footprint in the region, the CM has so far remained defiant.
Security personnel stand guard as voters stand in a queue at a polling station during the state Assembly elections, at Kanhmun, Mizoram on November 28, 2018. (Image: PTI)
With the BJP making inroads in the north-east over the past few years, Mizoram is the only state where the Congress is in power.
A state where the Congress and the Mizo National Front (MNF) have been in power since 1987, with the Congress winning 34 out of 40 seats in 2013, the polls will be key for both the Congress and the BJP. The BJP hopes to play the kingmaker by fielding 39 candidates and increasing its sway in the region, while the Congress is hoping to retain power.
The elections and the campaign leading up to it have been turbulent. It began on a contentious note with the recommendation by the state’s chief electoral officer to transfer a Mizo bureaucrat out of Mizoram following allegations of interference. The incident and its consequence set the tone for a bitterly contested elections.
Questions over voting rights of Bru refugees
The fierce contestation over the voting rights of the Brus community, who have been in conflict with the majority Mizos, has opened up fissures that first surfaced in the late 1990s when Mizo organisations first demanded that the Bru names be struck off voting lists. They had argued that the Brus were not indigenous tribes of the region and a reactionary militant movement followed, with Brus demanding increased political autonomy.
The violence continued, with thousands of Bru tribals fleeing the state borders till 2009.
The Tripura government estimates that there are over 35,000 Bru refugees living in Tripura. Earlier this year, the Centre offered an ultimatum, which is, to return to Mizoram by October with a rehabilitation package or be cut off from aid. But most families refused citing fear regarding their security.
The agitation set the tone for the election, which has been headlined by the BJP attempts to get a foothold in Mizoram by courting the state’s minority (and largely non-Christian) communities: the Brus and the Chakmas, who have long alleged persecution by the Mizo society.
About 80% of Mizoram’s voters cast their votes and 56.46% of the 11,987 displaced Bru voters lodged in six relief camps across Tripura cast their votes at special booths set up at Kanhmun, a Mizoram village in Mamit district bordering Tripura.
The Minority Vote Bank
The influence of the Bru and the Chakma vote bank is significant in four seats. But in a small state, with most foreseeing small margins, that might be key.
The relationship between the Mizo and the Chakma communities has deteriorated steadily and in October the Young Mizo Association, which is the most powerful of all the state’s civil society groups, passed a resolution demanding that the Chakma Autonomous District Council be abolished and also “requested” parties from fielding communities.
Both the ruling Congress and its main opponent, the Mizo National Front defied the diktats, but the BJP has gone a step further and campaigned aggressively in Chakma areas. Most of its high-profile campaigners, including Rajnath Singh, canvassed for votes in the area. The Chakma community is significant electorally in the Tuichawng and West Tupui seats.
Congress Battles Anti-incumbency
In Mizo-majority areas, chief minister Lal Thanhawla has his task cut out. With 10 years of anti-incumbency, as other Congress leaders from the north east fade away with the BJP increasing its footprint in the region, he has so far remained defiant. He has repeatedly claimed that the party will win ‘comfortably’.
But it might be harder to do so, with all opposition parties raking up issues of development, especially infrastructure that has lagged behind all states while the Mizo National Front has projected itself as a Mizo politics. Aiding them in their politics of identity, is the promise of banning alcohol in the state.
There have also been reports suggesting anger amongst farmers in the state. The farmers in the state have expressed their disappointment with the Congress’ flagship Land Use Policy that is aimed at weaning farmers away from ‘jhum’ cultivation. The policy was the key in the Congress’ victory in 2013.
Jhum cultivation is the process of growing crops by first clearing the land of trees and vegetation and then burning them thereafter.
The Alcohol Ban
Aiding the MNF is the larger narrative of alcohol being antithetical to Christian values. The state’s influential groups comprising the church bodies and other pressure groups have also been opposed to the sale of liquor in the state. The Congress and the BJP tread a cautious middle ground regarding the issue.
The state saw its first liquor shop opening in Aizawl after nearly 18 years of prohibition. The issue remains a part of the longstanding debate in the state with two overarching concerns – the health implications of drinking alcohol and the issue of religious morality in the Christian majority-state.
BJP’s Silent Rise and Possible Alliances?
In 2005, current BJP chief, AB Chakma quit the party and joined the MNF saying that “there was no hope for the BJP”. In 2016, the party entered the state’s politics for the first time, entering the Chakma Autonomous Council polls after a by election. In 2018, it won 5 of the 20 seats in the general election to the council.
While these successes don’t imply a massive success for the BJP, it is now certainly a factor and the party hopes to be a kingmaker in the state. Moreover, with the BJP’s strategy in other states often revolving around the formation of strategic alliances to enter the state Assembly, political observers maintained that post poll alliances couldn’t be ruled out.
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