There are no petrol pumps in Thenzawl, a sub-town of 8,000 people 78 km south of Mizoram capital Aizawl. So Zoram Engmawia pays Rs. 20 more per litre from the black market to fill up his autorickshaw. It works out cheaper than travelling to the nearest oil outlet at Serchhip town, 28 kms away.
Engmawia, 36, does not mind the inconvenience; he earns an average Rs. 500 a day despite the fuel ‘surcharge’, more than double the sum he used to make as a farmer.
“Lal Thanhawla will provide us a petrol pump too if there are more like us,” said fellow autorickshaw-owner RC Lalrintluanga, 37. He has a point. Thenzawl had no auto-rickshaws until four of them were made beneficiaries under the Rs. 2,873-crore New Land Use Policy (NLUP), the Congress’ flagship self-employment programme.
Lal Thanhawla, Mizoram’s chief minister, represents the Serchhip assembly constituency, which encompasses large swathes of Serchhip and Thenzawl civil sub-divisions. Weaver Malsawmi, 37, is also effusive in her admiration of Lal Thanhawla’s policies.
Four months ago, she received fiscal aid under the NLUP for expanding her weaving unit at her village in Upper Thenzawl.
The NLUP, though, is not the only factor why Serchhip roots for arguably the tallest politician in Mizoram. It invariably gets preference for all beneficiary schemes and developmental projects. Lal Thanhawla’s other pluses are his sociability.
He attends public, social and private functions across his constituency. The frequency of his visits has made the opposition refer to him as the ‘chief guest minister’. The chief minister does not mind this sobriquet. “My people know the reality, and that’s what matters,” he said.
Locals say his approach to his constituency changed after the Mizo National Front’s K Thangzuala ended his winning streak (since 1984) in 1998. He wrested the seat back in 2003, and the attention he showered since then, made him retain the seat in 2008 by a bigger margin.