In Poll-Bound Mizoram, Only the Rich Have a Chance at a Party Ticket
Mizoram's main opposition party MNF is suffering from financial disarray and many experienced politicians are making way for newbies with deep pockets and those who can finance their own campaigns.
A voter displays her voting card as she and others wait to cast their ballots in the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram (Representational photo: Reuters)
While the Congress in Mizoram has been was wreaked with defections and infighting over ticket distribution ahead of the Assembly elections, the opposition Mizo National Front (MNF) is also plagued by similar with its own set of problems.
During a chat with a couple of journalists, a general-secretary of MNF was asked whether the same pandemonium would ensue in their party given that many long-time party-men were passed over for apparent newbies.
The MNF leader, himself no stranger to the costs of campaigning for an election, said simply, "I didn't get a ticket because I have no money, and the party itself has no money. So if you look at our candidates, all of them would have a minimum of between 50-100 lakhs each – they can all comfortably finance their own campaigns."
When asked how he and others like him reconciled themselves to such a situation of seemingly not being rewarded with a chance at a seat in the state Assembly, he replied matter-of-factly, "We were able to convince our rank-and-file that the most important thing is for us to return to power. That's why you don't see a mass desertion from the MNF."
Indeed, the general-secretary was both proved correct and wrong once MNF candidates filled in their nomination forms and, along with those, sworn affidavits declaring their assets.
An analysis of the 40 MNF candidates' (the MNF – along with the Congress and the BJP – is contesting all 40 of the seats up for grabs) affidavits reveals that they would be indeed capable of financing their own campaigns without needing to reach into the party's coffers.
However, he was wrong about how much he imagined they would have.
On average, MNF candidates in these elections have assets worth over Rs 700 lakhs each (that's after adding up theirs' and their families' moveable and immoveable assets and subtracting their liabilities), and the total of all their assets put together is over Rs 28,000 lakhs. In all, 33 of the MNF's 40 candidates are crorepatis. One has assets totalling over ten-thousand lakhs, and three have over a thousand crore each.
It is, of course, evident that the party leadership has been able to exercise authority over these candidates despite their deep pockets. For example, the richest candidate – Lalrinenga Sailo, who is contesting from the Hachhek constituency and whose family has assets over Rs 10,000 lakhs – was initially poised to contest from the Tawi constituency. But he shifted to Hachhek without too much of a fuss after four-term Tawi MLA, Congress vice-president R Lazirliana quit as Home Minister and as an MLA and joined the MNF.
This dilemma, of being in charge of a party with empty coffers and selecting candidates who would be able to campaign on their own, appears to have been on the minds of MNF leaders, who constituted a nomination committee as early as the second month of the year.
The end of the third month would put ink to paper and show where the party stood financially, but that financial disarray had been years in the making.
According to expenditure reports submitted to the Election Commission, the Congress as a party spent a total of Rs 68.5 lakhs during the 2013 Assembly elections, when it contested all 40 seats. This is apart from the massive livelihood program funds the government, which was dominated by the Congress, doled out to over 40,000 families just a month or two ahead of elections.
In contrast, the MNF, which had an alliance with another regional party (the MPC), contested in 34 seats and spent a total of Rs 14.4 lakhs, almost a fifth of what the Congress spent. In the end, the Congress won 34 seats, almost seven times what the MNF could muster (it won five, while the MPC won a single seat).
The main opposition's finances appeared to go even more downhill soon afterward. According to annual audited statements of its finances, the MNF had less than Rs 27,000 in its coffers by the end of March, 2015. After a year had passed, it had just over Rs 8,000. By March-end 2017, its finances appeared to have regained (Rs 96,000) but by end-March this year, election year, the MNF didn't have any money – instead, the party had liabilities of Rs 87,469.
According to half a dozen MNF leaders charged with looking after the party's coffers over the past so many years, party funds were never really held by them. As one explained, "It's not an unnatural thing. If someone wants to donate to the party, it would best serve their interests to give it directly to the top man, the party president."
MNF president and former Chief Minister Zoramthanga is currently facing a disproportionate assets case that began a couple of years before the 2013 elections, and his accounts and policies with over Rs 320 lakhs in them have been frozen by the investigating agency, the state's Anti-Corruption Bureau. MNF leaders believe a share of the money in these accounts are party funds, directly affecting the party's balance-sheets. The corruption case, meanwhile, is still being heard by the Special Court tasked with judging cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
MNF leaders say it is because of this that many candidates in the current elections are either the party's top leaders, sitting MLAS, or first-timers with comfortable assets.
(Adam Saprinsanga is the editor of the Frontier Despatch. Views expressed in the article are his own)
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