Aizawl: At 76, Congress chief minister Lal Thanhawla is stalwart of Mizoram’s politics. He has occupied the post five times, including two consecutive terms since 2008. He is now seeking a record sixth term in office. He says his main aim this time round is to ensure the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doesn’t come to power in Mizoram and he is open to a Karnataka-type arrangement—i.e. sharing power with a like-minded party—to keep the BJP out. Edited excerpts from an interview:
You have been chief minister for two consecutive terms. Is anti-incumbency a worry for you?
Anti-incumbency emanates from the opposition only. There is no anti-incumbency in Mizoram against the Congress government.
In previous elections, senior Congress leaders from Delhi, including Sonia Gandhi, then prime minister Manmohan Singh besides Rahul Gandhi, all came down for campaigning. This time, there is only Rahul Gandhi campaigning. How does this impact your prospects?
Frankly speaking, their coming here—giving a flying visit and going back—may get some votes for me but compared to the trouble taken, I am not sure it is worth it or not. Of course campaigning is good, everyone should campaign here, but Mizoram is a very different state, the mentality of the people here is very different. Every Tom, Dick and Harry coming here doesn’t help us at all but people like Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, of course that helps.
There are reports of a resource crunch hitting the Congress party. Is that hampering poll preparations here?
I don’t want to spoil the Mizo people with money issues. On my part, I don’t use money power. That means there is no financial crunch at all. If you don’t use money power, then what is the need of money? Things like these do not happen in Mizoram. But post-elections, there might be some purchaseable commodities; I mean they (the BJP) might purchase someone like commodity. That has never happened but if that happens after these elections, I don’t know what to say. But that kind of thing has never happened in Mizoram.
Is that a major concern for you—the use of money to buy support? What if the BJP tries to lure away members of your party after the polls?
I am not concerned at all. If they have the money and they want to spoil the Mizo people, it is up to them. I am nobody to stop them. In 1984, I returned money that was given to me for campaigning, in 1987 also. This time since Congress is in the opposition (in Delhi), I don’t expect any financial help from the Congress and I don’t ask also.
You think you will win this election, come back to power?
Of course. With a comfortable majority.
There is talk of how PM Modi’s charisma draws the electorate. How do you plan to counter the “Modi magic"?
We Mizos are quite different from people in other parts of the country. I don’t think any magic plays here. Nobody will have magic in Mizoram—except Lal Thanhawla magic. I don’t know what it is but people have been voting my party to power—that’s the magic. This will be the sixth term in office (if I win on 11 December).
But the message the PM delivered is that vote in a BJP government and roads, connectivity will happen.
Today, because of my economic programme, Mizoram is in terms of GSDP (gross state domestic product) among the four top states in the country. What else can you expect from a state government? Among the small states, we are on top. From 20 forecast points and from 65 indicators, Mizoram is on the top. So what else do you expect from a government? The indicators cannot be better than they are today. Today, my state’s per capita income is higher than the national average, my state is the least malnourished state. So, what better administration is required? The BJP has no influence here.
If the Congress falls short, will you be open to a formula like the one adopted in Karnataka?
If any like-minded party comes to me, I will have to consider it—democratic, secular —all that. People who do not have secular credentials, I cannot work with them. My party is a secular party. I have nothing to do with communal parties.
So, your priority would be to keep out the BJP?
Yes. That is my job and it will be successful also.
You lifted prohibition in 2015. And it is said that the Church is angry with you. Their support is seen as critical in elections. Are you worried about the consequences?
I was compelled to end prohibition because it was a miserable failure for 17 long years. So, I have to find what is the best policy – the control policy or the free policy – whatever, I am trying and experimenting.
So you are saying you are open to a rethink on this?
If the need arises, of course. In 1997, at the behest of the Church, I had to impose prohibition. It was a miserable failure. So, I had to find a better way. Many people died due to spurious drugs, spurious liquor. I jailed them, fined them but nobody helped me except the YMA (Young Mizo Association, a non-government group). The Church remained silent. And during the total prohibition days, only those anti-social elements – the smugglers – were making hay while the sun was shining. When people are being drugged and people are dying of spurious liquor, I had to act because I could not stand by and see people dying. I have to find means as to save them.