The first elections for Lunglei Municipal Council are to take place on Wednesday, but residents EastMojo spoke to are unsure if the town is ready to be a municipality.

Lunglei is the second largest settlement of Mizoram and the headquarters of the Lunglei district. It was one of three districts created when Mizo district was elevated to a Union Territory status in January 1972. It is also famous for being one of the permanent settlements of the British after the Lushai Hills Expedition of 1888-89 till the country got independence in 1947. 

Congress President Lalsawta Campaigning in Lunglei

While there has been a group of people pushing for Lunglei to become a municipality for almost a decade, the majority of the residents EastMojo spoke to said the town may not be ready. 

A businessman and social activist, Jacob Khiangte told EastMojo: “Even though Lunglei is one of the oldest townships in Mizoram, we feel the government has neglected it for a long time. This can be seen from the rate of development and the state budget. That is the reason why the people of Lunglei were fighting for decentralisation of power hoping that many developments would be possible.” 

“This municipality is given very unexpectedly. It was given in a very short time even though the rumours or the planning was going on for a long time. When we looked at this year’s budget, it did not reflect a municipality, so we thought that the government did not think of giving us a municipal council. The election was declared, however, so everybody was rushing to field candidates and political parties were not ready. I think frankly speaking the time was very limited for filing nominations, political parties were going here and there searching for good candidates and inviting good personalities to be their candidates. If they were prepared, they should already be ready. They had to look for candidates at the last minute.” 

Mizoram: How ready is Lunglei for its first municipal elections?
Minister Robert Romawia Royte at a campaign

According to Khiangte, it is not just the political parties but also the public, who are not ready for a municipal council, “Suppose if we take votes many of us don’t even know what is the meaning of this municipal council we, just think it is something above Village Council level and below MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) level. The only thing the public is aware of is that having an LMC means they will pay property tax and tax will be increased. Awareness was not there even though some people organized awareness and some talks, but it was not enough. To sum it up, people are not ready but after 2-3 years I hope we can adapt to it.”

Khiangte spoke of some advantages and disadvantages it could bring, he said he is hopeful that the candidates can bring a change to the community, “Even though it’s a town, Lunglei is like a town without an owner. Let us take for example the parking fees, it has been collected in Lunglei but it is not used for the development of Lunglei town itself. When we have the LMC, all this money can go to the development of Lunglei town so money circulation will be within the Lunglei community, that is one advantage. There can also be many disadvantages with Lunglei being neglected for a very long time, there are many poor people so as we know many families are still depending on the NREGS and central scheme so when we have the municipal council this one source of income for the poor people it won’t be there anymore but at the same time if the elected councillors are wise enough I believe they can find another substitute for that.”

Mizoram: How ready is Lunglei for its first municipal elections?
MNF candidates LMC

NREGS has been a big talk with the LMC elections, but the residents of Lunglei are concerned that their source of income through the central scheme will be stopped and they will be left without other options for a source of income. 

Malsawma Riving, a businessman and hotel owner in Lunglei shared Khiangte’s sentiments, telling EastMojo, “We are disheartened about new taxes such as property taxes and various regulations including building regulations. As LMC will have to generate its revenue the candidates, as well as the public, are not aware of how they can generate this revenue. We are also very sad about NREGS being discontinued.” 

Both Rivung and Khiangte call Lunglei their hometown. They have watched the town grow with them. Rivung commented on his thoughts on the LMC and shared the sentiments of the people with East Mojo saying, “Majority of us do not support the municipality as we do not see any scope of progress. The people are not ready and also believe that it is not necessary. The majority of the population is not supportive of a municipal council, the small minority who wanted it just pushed for it hard. Even while they were demanding it, people did not pay attention because they thought it would not be fruitful anyway. However, it came unexpectedly. 

Mizoram: How ready is Lunglei for its first municipal elections?
Congress MLA campaigns in Lunglei

The public as well as political parties are not supportive of it, as it was going to be constituted anyway, the parties had to field candidates even though they were in low spirits. However since it is an election, they are working hard to win. The candidates did not even have time to study the workings of a municipality and that is evident in their speeches. They will just be walking in the dark no matter who is elected.” 

Even party members commented that the LMC was rushed and there was little time for preparation. Rokunga Ralte, a veteran politician of the Mizo National Front party and a former MLA candidate spoke to East Mojo saying, “It has been a long wait however, there is a question in the minds of many people if Lunglei is ready to become a municipality. Local taxes will be levied, and there will be property taxes so that the office can run and this is a cause of worry for some locals. There is also the opinion that the election came all of a sudden and the parties were not prepared. We need intermediate political status but even I believe that we are not educated enough to become a municipality. It is not that I am against it but I believe the public is yet to be educated about it. Even though Lunglei is the second capital, our economy is very bad. We are at a subsistent economic level, the ones considered ordinary middle-class men in the Aizawl district are people we might consider as wealthy and powerful men in the Lunglei district, there is a lot of difference. We might not be fit to look after a municipality yet.”

Ralte compared the municipality to a double-edged knife saying, “It can bring good in every sector however its usefulness will depend on the person holding the knife. For example, if you give a sharp knife to a child, there is a danger that they might hurt themself. The knife has many uses including development fund inflow, it could be a blessing or it could be a tool for corruption depending on who holds the knife.” 

ZPM candidates

Despite the rushed elections, he is hopeful for development through funds directed towards the LMC, “However, as we are in the process of becoming a municipality, “I believe we should work towards forming the best municipal council. Some positive that could come out of it is the support extended towards urban development and poverty alleviation. As we will be a notified town, there is hope for an urban development fund.” 

Of all the residents EastMojo spoke to, only one citizen, Henry Kawlni was hopeful that the municipality would be good for the town, “There will be development, even the candidates are very good and resourceful people. The people of Lunglei are against it only because they do not want NREGS to stop, they want this scheme to continue. It is just this small matter.”

Even Khiangte and Rivung have a tiny ray of hope.

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“I am hopeful for a good outcome as the candidates are better educated than the VC candidates. As they are ordinary people I believe they will understand the struggles of ordinary citizens. I am also hopeful that they will be able to come up with regulations that suit our community which will be much better than guidelines and regulations being set from another town or city,” said Rivung.

Khiangte, though hopeful, shared that money power may play a role in the voting decision, “The candidates are mostly newbies in the political scene. Many are social workers and some are pensioners. I don’t know the average age but when I look at the list I think the average age is quite young. This is a good sign and it gives me hope for the future of Lunglei because it’s time for the new generation to come into the political field and do their best for their town. At the same time, money power is very very very much a player in this election. In the last few days, we can see many people amid their campaign trying to use money power. I have a feeling it may be reflected in the election but on the other hand, I have a hope that since Lunglei is a town where people are educated, money power will not be a game player for at least 70% of the voting pattern. But, maybe 30% may be influenced as we have been neglected for a long time, there are many unfortunate poor people for whom Rs.2000 or 3000 is a very big deal.” 

Also Read | Mizoram: Hectic campaign ends for Lunglei Municipal Council polls

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