Polls in Mizoram usually come and go quietly, but this time the elections in the state of 1.12 million is attracting attention. Naturally so, since it will determine whether the Indian National Congress will retain its last foothold in North-East India, where it has traditionally been a strong political force, or whether the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) will make its presence felt in a state where it has hitherto not won a single seat. In recent years, the BJP has formed governments in five of India’s seven North-eastern states, starting with Assam, and it will be a big achievement for the party if it forms part of any government that takes shape in Mizoram—a predominantly Christian state.

The Congress government led by chief minister Lal Thanhawla has been campaigning on a development platform as has the BJP. Thanhawla’s new land use policy, aimed at giving farmers in the state suitable, permanent and stable trades, besides self sufficiency in rice and vegetables, is a key programme that the Congress has been highlighting as a success story in ensuring steady incomes for people. However, infrastructure, roads and connectivity, besides employment opportunities, are issues that the people are dissatisfied with. This is something that the BJP has been highlighting as an integral part of its programme for the development of Mizoram, along with its flagship “Skill India" mission.

The chief adversary of the Congress in this state, however, is the Mizo National Front (MNF) led by Zoramthanga, the former militant-turned-politician, who has been chief minister of Mizoram twice before. The fourth party is the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM), a coalition of six small regional parties, which is hoping to provide an alternative to the Congress and MNF.

The fact that the vote could be split four ways could actually mean an advantage for the Congress, given that any anti-incumbency in the state against the ruling party could be divided among the MNF, ZPM and the BJP.

A second factor that could help the Congress is that Mizoram is a Christian majority state where the Church wields a lot of power. The Church would like to keep the people united against the influence of the BJP, which is seen as a communal party. Any party that is seen as possibly tying up with the BJP—it is widely speculated that the MNF could do that after the elections —is frowned upon by the Church. The MNF’s inclusion in North East Democratic Alliance, the BJP-led anti-Congress group, could go against the party. This is one of the reasons for both the ZPM and the MNF to vehemently say that they will not form any alliance with the BJP even after elections. The Church has been trying to create awareness about what the BJP has been doing in terms of politics and spreading its ideology in other parts of the country. And because of this, those unhappy voters who are unhappy with the Congress, may end up voting for the party.

Mizoram has never had a hung assembly since its formation in 1987. But opinion polls seem to suggest this could happen this time. Should the Congress not be in a position to stake claim to form a government after the elections, then it could go in for an understanding with the ZPM. Or the MNF and the BJP could join hands to form the next government. Either way, it seems a possibility that a national party will come to power in Mizoram.

K.V. Reddy is professor and head of the political science department in Mizoram University, Aizawl.

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