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Effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh were burnt by protesters during protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill
Effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh were burnt by protesters during protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill|EastMojo image
OPINION

Will citizenship bill issue change voting pattern in Mizoram?

The legislation will be a main poll plank in a small state like Mizoram, where xenophobia is at its peak due to illegal influx and fear of outsiders

Precilla Khawzawl

Aizawl: In Mizoram, predominantly a tribal state with a least population of just over 11 lakh and which share international borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar, the influx of illegal migrants from these countries has been an important issue for decades. The issue becomes more prominent due to the fear of assimilation by outsiders on the part of the natives, especially the indigenous Mizos that constitute about 87% of the total population.

The attempt by the Centre to legislate the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in recent months, which the majority Mizos believed will attract illegal influx, has not only triggered more fear but developed a sense of “being neglected” by the Centre, thereby becoming a major issue for several political parties in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

Although the prohibition, anti-incumbency and Bru issues, among others, were the key poll agendas in the state assembly in November last year, which helped the Mizo National Front (MNF) headed by chief minister Zoramthanga sweeping the polls, this time, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has become the main poll issue. This is so, because the entire state along with other northeastern states had not only witnessed massive protests against the bill, but also the recent declaration by BJP president Amit Shah to re-introduce the bill, if the party returns to power, has, as most political analysts opined, made the issue stupendous and serious in a small state like Mizoram, where the feeling of xenophobia is high.

To imitate Lallianchhunga, a political science professor at Mizoram University, the BJP president Amit Shah’s statement in the very Northeast soil, where the bill faced massive protests, has brought the legislation a living political issue in Mizoram.

“CAB was introduced by the Lok Sabha but failed to be tabled in Rajya Sabha. For some time, the Centre’s decision was hailed as 'historic win'. Had Shah not said his party would re-introduce the bill, if voted to power, it would not have been a poll issue here,” the political analyst said.

School children protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Aizawl earlier this year
School children protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Aizawl earlier this year
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Barely two weeks after the Lok Sabha passed the bill on January 8, over 30,000 people, as claimed by the organiser, hit the street in Aizawl on January 23 responding to a call given by state’s apex student body, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), in protest against the bill. The protesters not only carried placards that reads “Hello China, Bye Bye India”, but also burnt the effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh.

On February 12, a similar protest was held in Aizawl where former CM Lal Thanhawla was seen among protesters carrying placard that reads “Welcome Independent Republic of Mizoram”.

Former Mizoram CM and Congress leader Lal Thanhawla at a protest rally organised by the NGO Coordination Committee in Aizawl against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on February 12 this year
Former Mizoram CM and Congress leader Lal Thanhawla at a protest rally organised by the NGO Coordination Committee in Aizawl against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on February 12 this year
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The Assam Rifles ground (Lammual) in the state’s capital Aizawl wore a deserted look on Republic Day due to a boycott call by NGO Coordination Committee, a conglomerate of major civil societies and student associations, forcing the then state’s governor Kummanam Rajasekharan to address a near-empty ground.

The mass prayers organised by church members across the state on February 16 due to appeal by Mizoram Kohhran Hruaitute Committee (MKHC), a conglomerate of 16 major churches, including Presbyterian Synod, the largest denomination in the state, for defeat of CAB had also manifested that the it was not just an affair of civil society groups, but important issue that involved the people at large.

MZP president L Ramdinliana Renthlei alleged that there were more than 30,000 illegal immigrants, mostly Chakmas, coming from Bangladesh.

According to a political analyst John VL, the citizenship bill tends to be the main poll plank in a small populated state like Mizoram, where xenophobia is at its peak due to illegal influx and fear of outsiders.

The citizenship bill issue, as seen by most political analysts, is likely to dent the prospect of the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) due to its “nexus” with the NDA. The MNF is part of the BJP led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).

“The CAB united the entire Northeast region. It was lapsed in Rajya Sabha due to massive protest. If the BJP, including the MNF failed to achieve its target in the region, there will be no other main reason but the CAB to blame,” Lalvenhima Hmar, a senior political analyst said.

However, most Lok Sabha elections in the past shows that fortune always favoured the ruling party in the state as oppositions had won only twice since 1972, when Mizoram got its own Lok Sabha seat after attaining Union territory. “Survey revealed that parliamentary polls after less than one year of forming new ministry at the state level works always for the ruling party candidate because people usually vote on state level issues much more than the national issues. But this time, CAB is more than a state issue. It is very difficult to predict whether the issue will dent the prospect of the ruling MNF or it will gain opposition,” said, a political analyst, who refused to be mentioned.

In most elections, there was a tendency among the majority voters to vote for a candidate, whom they think will win the polls.

Mizoram residents protesting against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill earlier this year
Mizoram residents protesting against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill earlier this year
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According to Lalmalsawma Vanchhawng, a political analyst, the CAB issue is unlikely to chance voting patter and the ruling MNF has better chance of winning the polls because it has been formed newly.

But emergence of important issue before the parliamentary polls used to work for the opposition like it was in 1999 Lok Sabha polls where the ginger issue played in favour of oppositions in the polls, a political analyst, who chose anonymous said.

He said that the 2004, 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls were issue less, hence favoured the ruling party in the state. But the CAB issue clubbed with other factors is likely to work for the ZPM-Congress combine.

Mizoram goes to the polls on April 11, where more than 7.8 lakh electorates will decide the fate of six candidates, including a woman. Mizoram has only one Lok Sabha seat reserved for Schedule Tribe.

While the ruling MNF has fielded former Doordarshan director general C Lalrosanga, the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM)-Congress combine projected a sport journalist Lalnghinglova Hmar.

The BJP, which is contesting the Lok Sabha polls for the first time, has fielded its state president and veteran Chakma politician Nirupam Chakma and the newly floated People’s Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (PRISM) fielded former navy TBC Lalvenchhunga. Two independent candidates Lalhriatrenga Chhangte and Lalthlamuani are also contesting the polls.

Even though six candidates are in the fray, the key contest is likely between MNF and ZPM-Congress combine.

The MNF said that it would pull out of the NEDA, if the centre re-introduce the CAB and enact it. The party also pledged all-round development focusing specially on road, health, and education sectors and development of the youths through entrepreneurship and skill developments.

The ZPM-Congress combine, which used the defeat of CAB as its main poll plank, appealed to the people to vote for the alliance’s candidate to defeat rival MNF, a NDA ally for safety of Mizoram, the people and their religion.

Apart from all-round development, the alliance also pledged for youths and farmers development, strengthening of ties between Mizoram and Delhi and border trade, among others.

(Precilla Khawzawl is a political commentator based in Aizawl, Mizoram. She can be reached at priskhojol@gmail.com. Views expressed are her own)