New Delhi: It’s only one seat, but the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Mizoram’s political scene will help the political juggernaut further cement its position as the North-East’s political tour de force.
This token debut with one Assembly seat in the state—nestled between Bangladesh and Myanmar—comes despite outgoing Congress chief minister Lal Thanhawla’s focused efforts to keep the BJP out.
An innings in Mizoram, that was the Congress’ last bastion in the region, also bears the leitmotif of a party that has the ability to go beyond its traditional voter base of upper caste and traders despite its so-called “religious agenda".
This comes in the backdrop of Mizoram being 90% Christian. The Church, especially the Presbyterian Church, is seen as a strong influence in daily life, as is the Mizo People’s Forum, a non- governmental civil society forum.
The BJP’s voteshare was 8%, a huge jump over the 0.37% it had in 2013, according to figures put out by the Election Commission (EC). The BJP won one seat, and the Mizo National Front (MNF) cornered 26 in the 40-member Assembly. Ranged against the BJP were the Congress, MNF, and the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM).
Interestingly, the MNF was a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1998 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister. Also, it is part of the North-East Democratic Alliance, the North-East wing of the NDA.
For both the Congress and the BJP, these results are crucial. In the past three years, the Congress has seen its presence in the North-East dwindle, being reduced from a position of having governments in five states to now having none. For the BJP, even a single seat is an achievement in Mizoram, which was formed in 1987. MNF leader Zoramthanga had earlier predicted in an interview the BJP would win not more than “one or two seats".
The electoral performance can, in part, be attributed to the “Act East" policy of the government and its message of development. In the past four years, NDA has formed governments in six of the eight North-Eastern states, limiting the Congress to just Mizoram.
“In states that are under BJP, there is a lot of development and the Mizo people are seeing that and are aware of that. They want development. That is why the Congress attacks us as being anti-Christian," John Hluna, head of the BJP in Mizoram, earlier said.
The rise in the BJP vote share will be a shot in the arm for the party as it aims to pick up Lok Sabha seats in the North-East to make up for any shortfall it may face in national polls next year. There are at least 20 seats to be picked up here in 2019 with Assam accounting for 14.
The BJP’s debut holds implications not just for the politics of the state but also for the future geo-economics of the region, and will push the economic agenda, especially with respect to long-pending infrastructure projects.