The Mizo National Front and the Congress are the two main parties in Mizoram’s politics; the question is whether this system will continue.
This time, the news is that a conglomeration of non-governmental organisations (NGO) have pushed for the ouster of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) SB Shashank, as they accuse him of having lost the confidence of the people. This came after the Election Commission had removed the Principal Secretary (Home) Lalnunmawla Chuaungo for dereliction of duty, and interference in the in the election process. The allegation against the CEO and a governor with known links to the RSS and BJP make for a combination that may lead one to believe that the saffron party is trying to engineer an electoral coup in the Christian majority state. However, despite these shenanigans, the saffron party may have less success than it did in the Meghalaya assembly elections where it won only two seats to play second fiddle to the National People’s Party (NPP)-led government.
The Political Landscape
The only two big names in Mizoram’s political landscape are the Mizo National Front and the Congress. Both parties have taken turns at two five-year terms each since Mizoram’s statehood in 1987. The Congress under Lal Thanhawla formed the first two governments, after which in 1998, the MNF formed the government for two terms. At present, the Lal Thanhawla-led Congress government is at the fag end of its second term.
Mizo National Front
The MNF found its origins in a famine relief NGO – called Mizo National Famine Front – during the mautam of 1959–1960. Due to perceived neglect from Delhi as well as the government of Assam – at the time the Mizo/Lushai Hills were a part of Assam – the famine front quickly decided on secession from the Union of India as the MNF. A sustained guerrilla campaign was launched in which the MNF, at one point, seized control of all the urban centres in the hills which prompted the Union Government to use the air force to bomb Aizawl. The Union Government, at the time, claimed the air force was only being used to air drop food supplies. The period was characterised by extreme high-handedness by the armed forces deployed, as many young men were taken away, irrespective of whether they were a part of the movement of not.
In 1972, the Union Territory of Mizoram was created, and in 1986 Laldenga, the chief of the MNF, signed what is now known as the Mizo Accord, and the MNF came overground as a political party. In 1987, the state of Mizoram was formed with Laldenga as the first chief minister of the state and Lal Thanhawla as the deputy. In 1989, the Congress, under Lal Thanhawla, formed the government.
The MNF first won an election in 1998 under Zoramthanga. At the time, the party was a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Parliament. Considering the power wielded by the church in the state, the reasons for aligning with the BJP were more along the lines of realpolitik rather than ideology, since the only opposition party in the state was the Congress. However, this time, the MNF appears confident of running alone, and has signalled that it would not be forming any pre or post poll alliances. They have ruled out an alliance with the BJP, as the BJP had earlier formed an alliance with the Congress in ruling the Chakma Autonomous District Council in April.
At present, the MNF appears to have an upper hand, as R Lalzirliana resigned from the Congress to join the MNF in September. Lalzirliana has been referred to as the Congress’s Himanta Biswa Sarma in Mizoram for his ability to forge alliances and deals. After he joined the MNF, there have been murmurs of more members of the Congress switching sides. The MNF is also promising an Assam-like National Register of Citizens (NRC) for the state if voted to power. However, the MNF’s confidence may be premised on the past electoral patterns in the state.
The Congress has had a rather inglorious history for Mizoram. It was on the orders of the then Congress Prime Minister – Indira Gandhi – that Aizawl was bombed. It was during the ‘counter-insurgency’ operations that the present chief minister Lal Thanhawla was rounded up as a young man, and was detained in inhuman conditions. The chief minister revealed this fact in Sanjoy Hazarika’s documentary on Mizoram’s ‘troubled’ years, Rambuai.
Lalthanhawla’s Congress at present is battling not only an anti-incumbency factor, but also allegations of corruption that have been flung at sitting members of the government. The other problem faced by the Congress’s prospects this time is the failed Bru repatriation, which will have to be resumed at a later date, presumably after signing yet another agreement. In this backdrop, perhaps it is worth mentioning that the ethnic riots which displaced the Bru people and ensuing armed political violence began in 1997, the last year of the Congress’s rule. At present, the Congress has accused the MNF of using ‘undergrounds’ to instruct the few repatriated Brus to vote for the MNF. The alleged cadres are from the Bru Revolutionary Army and the Peace Accord MNF Returnees Association respectively.
However, the one feather in the Congress’s cap is the successful surrender of the Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) (HPC(D)) which was completed in April. The event received wide attention from the local media and the cadres were also shown adequate respect from the government.
National People’s Party
Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP) has also thrown its hat into the fray. The NPP was a relative non-entity in the Northeast. However, under the Sangma family, the NPP is a part of the NDA in Parliament, and is aligned with the BJP in Manipur and Nagaland as a junior partner. In Meghalaya, the NPP is the senior partner of the alliance. In Mizoram, the NPP has announced that it would likely be contesting 25 seats, and has signalled that it would not be a partner to any alliance. However, considering the party’s track record, it is likely that they will align with the BJP.
Bharatiya Janata Party
The BJP in Mizoram is a non-entity. The state’s Christian population has time and again rejected the saffron party. The BJP first released a list of 13 names for contesting the election. However, the second list has seen the number rise to 24. The BJP is likely to attempt making a mark in the Chakma areas, and possibly try to curry favour among the Bru. Since both communities are mostly non-Christian, with the Chakmas being Buddhists, and the Bru being animists. However, the failed repatriation of the Bru is likely to haunt the BJP as well as the Congress, since it was the Union Government’s ham handedness that stopped rations from reaching the camps in Tripura.