In Mizoram, an electoral victory like never before - Hindustan Times
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In Mizoram, an electoral victory like never before

Dec 07, 2023 12:15 AM IST

The emergence of ZPM as a strong contender and eventual champ suggests that regionalism is alive and kicking in Mizoram

History was scripted on Monday when the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) won the Mizoram assembly elections in a landslide victory. The ZPM secured an impressive 27 seats against a dismal 10 by the incumbent party, the Mizo National Front (MNF). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won two constituencies in the southern extremities, up by one, while the ever-weakening Congress managed just one seat. For the first time since Mizoram gained statehood, a political party other than the MNF or the Congress will form the government under a new chief minister (CM). In a first, three women — two from the ZPM and one from the MNF — were also elected to the 40-member legislative assembly. Interestingly, the Election Commission of India had to postpone the counting at the last minute to Monday after mounting public protests over holding it on a Sunday: Sunday is Pathian Ni or Chawlhni in Mizoram, a day of worship and religious activities in the Christian majority state, and considered unsuitable for conducting political affairs.

Zoram People's Movement (ZPM) workers celebrate party's lead during the counting of votes for the Mizoram assembly election in Aizawl on Monday, (PTI) PREMIUM
Zoram People's Movement (ZPM) workers celebrate party's lead during the counting of votes for the Mizoram assembly election in Aizawl on Monday, (PTI)

History was scripted on Monday when the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) won the Mizoram assembly elections in a landslide victory. The ZPM secured an impressive 27 seats against a dismal 10 by the incumbent party, the Mizo National Front (MNF). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won two constituencies in the southern extremities, up by one, while the ever-weakening Congress managed just one seat. For the first time since Mizoram gained statehood, a political party other than the MNF or the Congress will form the government under a new chief minister (CM). In a first, three women — two from the ZPM and one from the MNF — were also elected to the 40-member legislative assembly. Interestingly, the Election Commission of India had to postpone the counting at the last minute to Monday after mounting public protests over holding it on a Sunday: Sunday is Pathian Ni or Chawlhni in Mizoram, a day of worship and religious activities in the Christian majority state, and considered unsuitable for conducting political affairs.

Mizoram’s electoral outcome stands apart from the general trend wherein the two national parties won four of the five states that held assembly elections in November. The emergence of ZPM as a strong contender and eventual champ suggests that regionalism is alive and kicking in Mizoram. It also indicates that the small, landlocked state is unlikely to join the BJP bandwagon anytime soon, contrary to what the Congress alleged during election campaigns. The downfall of the MNF can be attributed in part to its tricky coalition with the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) which has long induced lingering scepticism about the party’s sincerity in preserving its regional identity and autonomy. Outgoing CM Pu Zoramthanga’s popularity has also rapidly waned with his age working against him, and because he exemplifies “politics as usual” which the new-age Mizo voters have grown tired of.

The ZPM’s appeal lies in its freshness and “promise for change” and systemic reformation encapsulated in their motto “Kalphung Thar, Mipui Sawrkar” (A new system of people’s government). As a political movement formed by a confluence of six small parties including the Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP) and Mizoram People’s Conference (MPC), the ZPM entered the electoral fray for the first time in 2018, winning eight urban constituencies in Aizawl by backing independent candidates. There has been no turning back since and the movement has morphed into a full-fledged political party posing a formidable threat to the struggling MNF government by 2023, whose tenure in office has been mired in several controversies of corruption and incompetence. The MNF’s failure to successfully implement its flagship programmes, its neglect of the health care needs of Lunglei, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic and allegations of corruption and nepotism against its MLAs and ministers have turned the tide against them. Moreover, the need for a third alternative in a state long dominated by the MNF-Congress rivalry has been felt for a long time, although the voters had lacked confidence in any party other than these two. But that changed as ZPM consistently performed well in municipal elections in Aizawl and Lunglei.

The ZPM also adopted innovative campaign strategies at a time when the internet has penetrated even the remotest rural areas and the use of social media is widespread. A crucial factor that aided the ZPM is its chief ministerial face, Pu Lalduhoma. As a former IPS officer and ex-parliamentarian, he has been on the political scene for roughly four decades. His dedication to the Movement’s political cause is well-appraised and the ZPM wave can be attributed to his leadership.

While individual candidates matter, the results show that it is the party that the voters have chosen. Hence, several well-established politicians and incumbent MLAs found themselves being toppled by their young and novice ZPM opponents. Among such first-time winners are ex-professional footballer Jeje Lalpekhlua, a former news anchor and Aizawl Municipal Corporation councillor 32-year-old Baryl Vanneihsangi Tlau, journalist and football administrator Lalnghinglova Hmar and retired naval petty officer TBC Lalvenchhunga. The party’s strategy of fielding reputed “non-politician” citizens in key constituencies has paid off.

The future looks bright for Mizoram under the ZPM government, but the road to progress and prosperity will be tough and arduous. There are looming challenges for the state on multiple fronts on border infrastructure, health care, government spending, agriculture, rural and urban development, and youth unemployment just to name a few. Corruption in its multi-faceted forms needs to be rooted out. The new government will also inherit the unresolved humanitarian crisis involving Mizo kindred tribes — the Chins and Kukis from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Manipur — due to the civil war and ethnic clashes. It will have to evolve a better strategy for the long-term accommodation of tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the state in tandem with the Centre.

So far, the ZPM leadership has expressed its staunch refusal to follow in the MNF’s footsteps by aligning itself with the NDA or associate itself with any Hindutva elements. The ZPM-led government will have to carefully navigate the growing ideological polarisation in India and the sharpening divide between the left and right. But as a regional party, its ultimate interest is to represent the collective will of the people of Mizoram who have given the party the mandate. As implied by Pu Lalduhoma, its ability to fulfill the voters’ aspirations for a paradigm shift in governance and deliver on their key electoral promises will, in due course, give the ZPM legitimacy and longevity as a political force in the state.

CV Lalmalsawmi is a writer and academician from Lunglei, Mizoram. The views expressed are personal

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