A government employee-turned-rebel, Lal Thanhawla joined the Congress after his release from jail in 1967. He became the Mizoram party president in 1973 and a legislator for the first time in 1978.
His stint as chief minister began in 1984, but when the Congress entered into a coalition with the MNF in 1986, he had to step down and settle for the deputy’s post. He returned to power in 1989 and continued for two consecutive terms, before losing from home-turf Serchhip for the first time in 1998.
Following are excerpts from an interview with the CM seeking re-election from Serchhip seat as well as Hrangturzo.
Do you expect your party to reap the benefits of your government’s flagship scheme, the New Land Use Policy (NLUP)?
NLUP is more than just a populist programme. It has evolved since the 1980s and has been fine-tuned to suit people’s need towards self-dependence. Other states in the Northeast have been enthused by our model. But what matters is the appreciation of the people whose lives it has touched.
The Opposition says you have been partial to Congress workers and supporters in selecting beneficiaries under NLUP.
Of course, most of the NLUP beneficiaries are Congress supporters. I see no harm in giving them preference. Even the Bible says a gardener should be the first to eat the fruit. But then, the beneficiaries were identified by neutral social NGOs and many people who benefitted joined our party out of gratitude.
But hasn’t NLUP increased the financial burden on your state that depends on central assistance?
To cut dependence on the Centre, I want to harness almost all rivers and make Mizoram a power-surplus state. The MNF government had, through bogus compensation claims, muddied the 60MW Tuirial hydro project that I had started during my earlier tenure.
I resumed the project after returning to power in 2008, and it is expected to start generating by 2015. Then there is the 210MW Tuivai hydro project that the Centre has cleared. It is the first in India to be set up under viability gap funding and taken up under private-public partnership model.
Critics say these projects are ecological threats.
Dams do entail submergence and displacement, but we cannot ignore the potential of our rivers to yield power toward self-sufficiency. Mizoram holds big promise for natural gas, and if we strike it big in two-three years we will not need to harness all the rivers.