Aizawl: You may refer to it as a case of divine calling. A UK-based pastor and his two daughters have returned to their native state, Mizoram, to contest elections after receiving, what they claim, a message from the almighty to establish a godly state.
“In 2012, God instructed me to pave the way for the establishment of his kingdom in Mizoram. He asked me to return to the very place which I had left 30 years ago to expand his kingdom. God now wants to build his own kingdom in Mizoram,” said Rev Zaichhawna Hlawndo.
In 1988, Hlawndo left Mizoram to work as a Christian missionary in Assam, where he served for 13 years, before working in Delhi and Kolkata for the next three years. After completing his MA in missiology from the Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, US, he returned to India to resume work in Kolkata. While working as a missionary there, he took leave (without pay) to complete his PhD in theology and missiology from the University of Birmingham in the UK.
He received the ‘message’ from God in Birmingham, where he had been working as a pastor for ten years, in 2012.
Hlawndo immediately started his preparation for the mission that mainly involved building a network in Mizoram through phone calls and e-mails. After leaving England in January 2016, he formed a new political outfit called Zoram Thar (which literally means ‘New Mizoram’ in Mizo) in February that year.
However, Hlawndo has refused to call Zoram Thar a “political party”.
“It’s not a political party like the existing ones in India. It’s God’s own movement. That is why I did not want it registered under the Constitution of India,” he explained. Thus, it became an unregistered party whose candidates will contest on a common, free symbol – ring.
However, Zoram Thar candidates will follow all the rules and regulations required to contest a free and fair election. “We will complete all the formalities under the guidelines of the Election Commission of India,” he said.
Zoram Thar will contest in all the 40 seats. All the candidates volunteered to contest on the party’s ticket. “I did not invite anyone to contest on a Zoram Thar ticket. All I did was pray to God. Then, God sent the candidates,” he said.
Hlawndo himself will contest against incumbent chief minister Lal Thanhawla in the latter’s home constituency Serchhip, as well as Aizawl West-I against Zoram People’s Movement’s chief ministerial candidate Lalduhoma.
But why did he choose Lal Thanhawla’s constituency? This, too, is God’s “instruction”. “When God asked me to fight elections, he showed me the chief minister’s home constituency with a vision of Biblical figures David and Goliath,” he said, likening himself to David.
“We don’t do membership drive, we won’t ask people to vote for us either,” he said, adding, “All we do and will be doing is pray to God and wait for his intervention.”
According to Hlawndo, God will work on the voters’ heart that will in turn vote Zoram Thar to power to establish God’s Kingdom where Jesus Christ will be the King. As they depend entirely on divine intervention, there is no need for election campaigning. “We will not campaign for votes. However, if invited, we will participate on any platform to highlight our aims and objectives,” he said.
Statistically speaking, Zoram Thar is a 60-man-strong group, who are members of the executive committee. “Other than this executive body, we don’t have any members or units,” he said proudly.
“One of the basic objectives of Zoram Thar is to do away with this Indian system of party politics. We cannot get involved in the very system that we aim to do away with,” he said.
Daughters by his side
It was not Hlawndo alone that received God’s message, his two daughters did too.
The elder one, Lalhrilzeli Hlawndo, 28, received a similar message in early 2017. She had just started a hairstyling business in Birmingham and was engaged. “She was so reluctant initially because the things that she would leave behind were too good for her. But in the end, she could not help but obey God’s words and return to Mizoram. I did not force her,” her father said. Lalhrilzeli will contest from the Lengteng assembly constituency in eastern Mizoram.
Like her father, the younger daughter, Lalruatfeli Hlawndo, was also a pastor in Birmingham. The 26-year-old woman said she received the same divine message that instructed her to return to Mizoram and fight the elections. She too left her job and fiancé behind to contest elections from the Aizawl North-I constituency.
Born and brought up in a foreign country and pursuing their own dreams, leave alone fighting elections, politics itself wouldn’t have mattered to the young siblings. However, they found a different calling -- fighting elections in a strangers’ land.
“I never even dreamed of contesting elections. But who am I to disobey God’s words?” asked Lalhrilzeli.
Even though the ideology of Zoram Thar is based on Christianity, Rev Hlawndo claims that his party does not aim to promote any particular religion. “We are not against any religion. We only want to promote godliness that exists in all religions,” he said, adding, “We will introduce politics of godliness and a godly state in Mizoram for all other states to follow.”
Church reformation is one of the main agendas of Zoram Thar in Mizoram. “We will change the Mizo Christians’ understanding of the church, and how denominations are different from the church. We will build the world’s largest church in Mizoram which can be shared by Christians from different denominations,” he said.
According to the Bible, there can be only one church that is built on Jesus Christ, he said.
Sovereignty of Mizoram is a long-term objective of Zoram Thar. “Mizos are not historically and ethnically Indians. Mizoram became part of India only in 1947. We strive to protect our distinct identity and our rights for sovereignty,” he said.
Zoram Thar has a ten-point programme that includes social reforms, economic reforms, administrative reforms, economic reforms and administrative reforms, among others.