Most observers outside the state of Mizoram believe Zoramthanga will be back in power. But what voters in Mizoram think and decide could be something else. It remains to be seen until December.
Zoramthanga is one of the most popular CM and public figures, not only in Mizoram but across the country. He is one of the few north-east state chief ministers who has often made headlines in recent years with his wits, outspoken remarks, and “disobedience” to Delhi.
Most notably, in recent years, he defied—more than once— orders or directives from the centre. Even though his party, the Mizo National Front (MNF), is an ally of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Zoramthanga has courageously disobeyed and stood his ground against the central government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on many occasions.
Like the refugee crisis, Zoramthanga put his foot down and went on to give shelter and relief to thousands of Myanmar nationals fleeing their country after the military coup in 2021. The BJP-led government in Delhi had issued an order to the north-east states “not to welcome Myanmar refugees and politely send them back”. Further, the Zoramthanga government decided against taking biometric data of the Myanmar refugees, maintaining that it would amount to discrimination against the refugees, who are Kuki-Chin-Zo groups the ethnic brothers of the Mizos.
Adding to this is the crisis unfolding in its neighbouring state, Manipur. Mizoram shoulders an additional burden in terms of taking in a large number of displaced people from the neighbouring state due to the large-scale ethnic violence between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities that erupted in May this year with no sign of normalcy returning even after five months. Mizoram has been proactively providing donations and is the only connecting link for the Kuki-Zo communities to the outside world. Zoramthanga was vocal about the situation in Manipur, to the extent of being trolled on social media, memes made, his effigy burned, etc. The Mizoram CM was called out by CSOs and individuals not to interfere in the (internal) affairs of Manipur.
Simply known as Zoramthanga (no second or surname), he is a straightforward person. He has no qualms about speaking his mind, often thinking loudly. He was famously quoted as saying that he did not understand a thing of what was being discussed or said in the online meeting of the PM with state CMs in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis because he does not understand Hindi. On another occasion, Zoramthanga mistook Chief Justice DY Chandrachud because he thought he was too young to be the CJI.
Zoramthanga has no issue waiting for his turn in the hospital or walking in a rally with the general public. A down-to-earth yet rebellious character and persona as a former rebel—he carries this with him even today.
Unlike any other state in the northeast or other parts of India, Mizoram has a distinction of minimum VVIP security cover or convoy. The office of the CM is not intimidating at all—just basic protocol and security checks—which is very rare, especially in NE states infamous for “security cover” or law and order situations where even a bureaucrat has a guard. You will find ordinary citizens waiting to meet the CM in Aizawl.
Elections come and go. A political party comes to power and goes, and so does a chief minister. Every five years, politicians and political parties have to prove their worth and fight to get it back.
All of the chief ministers that Mizoram has had were in power for more than one term. Power has been passed on between two or three prominent personalities who rule for at least two consecutive terms. Even Zoramthanga himself came to power in 1998 and 2003. This will be his fourth term if voted back, making him second to Lalthanhawla, who is a five-time CM.
MNF brought statehood to Mizoram. It formed the government in 1986 with the formation of the new state. But it was short-lived. Perhaps it is because the MNF, which is a rebel movement, is not capable or experienced enough to run a government at that point in time.
The Indian National Congress (INC), which was in power then, was instrumental in granting statehood to Mizoram. It therefore has clout and influence over the new state. Thus gaining an upper hand and taking over the government from the MNF immediately within a span of two years. The MNF, though, managed to come back for two consecutive terms under Zoramthanga in the 4th legislative assembly. The INC again rode back to power under Lalthanhawla in the 6th legislative assembly in 2008.
A decade later, the incumbency factor played one of the key roles in the rise of the BJP across the country. With the BJP coming to power in 2014 in the centre, it paved the way for the downfall of the INC in Mizoram.
Until now, the BJP has not been able to make much inroads into Mizoram, even as all the other NE states began to be conquered by the party. The BJP’s rise in the country was counter-productive for the MNF. The ideology of the BJP did not go down well in Mizoram. The BJP which is considered anti-Christian by the general public at large, paves the way for MNF to grab the opportunity. With the anti-incumbency wave, the MNF regained its lost influence.
The trend in the Mizoram state assembly shows that the ruling party has more than half of the total seats. Opposition parties come to a minimal single digit. The state government is more or less opposition-less in all the successive assemblies.
In the previous 2018 election, MNF secured a whopping 28 seats out of a total of 40. Congress just managed five seats, and other parties like the BJP and ZPM get one each, while there are five independent MLAs. In the 5th Mizoram state assembly, INC had 34 MLAs, while MNF had only 5 members.
Going by these, the MNF, if they could retain their 28 seats, is certainly coming back to power. Moreover, given that Mizoram had never seen a coalition of parties or an alliance state government, this could give an edge to the ruling MNF.
Zoramthanga, at 79 and the oldest serving CM in the country, can either have an easy sweep or a very tough fight. Even though his popularity ratings are high—in terms of his nationalism standing up against the BJP or standing up for his ideals—Zoramthanga and his party have their own share of criticism. And these are serious ones.
Nepotism has been one of the allegations and setbacks for Zoramthanga. He was allegedly inclined to favour his kin and close aides. He was also accused of corruption charges and misuse of power.
Moreover, the opposition, particularly the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) is riding on the financial crisis and the state debts as its key election plank. The New Indian Express in August reported that Mizoram tops the states in debt-GDP, which stands at 53.1 per cent as per FY 2023.
ZPM has been reportedly gaining ground as an opposition to reckon with. Even though the BJP has been rejected by the general public at large, it has one sitting MLA and is now joined by two MLAs from the MNF for the upcoming state polls. It may also be wrong to write off the Congress in Mizoram as well.
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With those blots on him, Zoramthanga and his party will have major hurdles in their fight to regain power. Philanthropy, idealism, or nationalist zeal in Zoramthanga may not take the MNF to the next term in the state assembly. With the state’s economy in shambles, realist voters may look for a change in the helm of affairs.
A worrying factor for the ruling party is the possibility of opposition parties ganging up for a coalition. If at all this happens, it would be fatal for Zoramthanga and the MNF.
(Views expressed in this column are of the author and do not reflect EastMojo’s stance on the issue.)
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