Home / Politics / Policy /  Opinion: Sub-nationalism was the winner in Mizoram polls

The main electoral issue that gave the Mizo National Front (MNF) a decisive lead in the elections was a strain of regional or sub-nationalism, which took on the BJP’s version of Hindu nationalism.The elections were marred by a controversy over the granting of voting rights to over 32,000 Bru refugees. Chief electoral officer S.B.Shashank had made an attempt to identify these people who had been repatriated from six camps in Tripura as legitimate voters, but it was resisted by the Congress government’s home minister. The raging controversy finally led to the expulsion of Shashank and the appointment of a new electoral officer.

The BJP had projected the episode as an attempt to suppress the voting rights of the Hindu Bru refugees by a Christian majority Mizoram. But the attempt to induce religious polarization seems to have failed. Voters, instead, backed the sub-nationalism propped up by both the Congress and the MNF, which viewed people from outside the state (such as the Bru people) with suspicion. BJP’s attempt to play the religion card failed in the face of the MNF’s strategy of playing the state and local tribe card. Ultimately, a form of nationalism won the day, just not the strain the BJP had hoped would see them through.

Since the MNF is seen as a corrupt party, not very different from the Congress, without the polarization induced by this controversy, the results may not have been a sweep. MNF won nearly 65% of the total seats, which is unprecedented in Mizoram’s electoral history.

In the Mamit and Kolasib districts, where most of the Bru people are based, MNF and Congress won all the seats. The MNF intentionally did not field a minority candidate in these contentious constituencies.

The regional party also got a boost from a slew of powerful Congress rebels, including the home minister. These leaders brought with them dedicated cadres who had a proven ability to turn out voters. Thus, the MNF was able to garner a groundswell of support across the state, except in 6 urban seats.

Ultimately, the Mizoram election was fought on very local issues. And the relevance of the results for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls may be limited.

Although both the MNF and the BJP are part of the North-East Democratic Alliance, which is a regional alliance akin to the National Democratic Alliance, they may not necessarily work together come 2019. Since smaller states are heavily reliant on central financial assistance, they tend to go with whoever is the winner at the national level. The MNF will also play their cards based on the national mood. Within the state itself, however, there is no real future electoral prospect for the BJP, although it did win a seat for the first time. The BJP is still considered alien.

As told to Ajai Sreevatsan.

Kham Khan Suan Hausing teaches Political Science at the University of Hyderabad.

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