By Barun Das Gupta
Tiny Mizoram (area 23,000 sq. kms, population 11 lakh) is the last outpost of the Congress in the North-East. State Assembly elections are due in Mizoram by the year end. In the last Assembly elections held in 2013, the Congress won 34 of the 40 seats, the Mizo National Front (MNF) got 5 while the Mizo People’s Conference got only one. Going by the past result, the Congress dominates the State’s politics. Its main opponent, the MNF, is a very distant second.
Apparently, the Congress still dominates the scene. But politics never ceases to spring surprises and make strange bedfellows. In April this year elections were held for the 20-member Chakma Autonomous Council. The result was totally unexpected: the Congress won six seats and the BJP five. The MNF won eight seats.
Then the unexpected happened. Local Congress leaders joined hands with the BJP to run the Council, because both parties wanted to keep the MNF out. And this despite the fact that the MNF is a constituent of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). The deal was that the BJP would be given the post of the Chairman of the Council, while the Congress will remain satisfied with the Deputy Chairman’s post. Unbelievable but true.
The Chakmas emigrated from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh in the nineteen eighties when things became difficult for them to stay there. The present population of the Chakmas in Mizoram is around a lakh but the Chakma population living in the area under the Chakma Autonomous Development Council (CADC) is much less – a little over forty thousand.
The emigration of the Chakmas and their settlement in Mizoram was resented by the Mizos. This led to a dispute about which community was “indigenous” in Mizoram. The Mizos claimed Mizoram was the land which has been traditionally theirs and where they have been living for generations. The Chakmas dispute this claim. The ethnicity question in the old Lushai Hills district of Assam, which is now renamed as Mizoram, is very old and dates back to the period of British conquest of this area.
The BJP seems to have made some inroads in the Chakma community as reflected in the election results. That the Congress had to strike a deal with the BJP to keep the MNF out of power in the CADC shows that Congress influence on the Chakmas has declined. The Congress considers the MNF as its main opponent. So it chose to join hands with the BJP against the MNF. Observers of Mizoram politics doubt the wisdom of the local Congress leaders in deciding to join hands with the BJP.
So far there is no indication that the Congress is facing any serious threat from any quarter. But there are several months to the elections and it is likely enough that the BJP will mount an offensive against the Congress in a big way. If past experience in other north-eastern States like Arunachal and Manipur is any guide, the BJP will have the resources – much more than the Congress can possibly mobilize – to make an entry into the Mizoram Assembly.
But it will have to contend with a formidable rival. The present Congress Chief Minister of Mizoram, Lalthanhawla, is a popular figure. His first term as CM was from 1984 to 1986 and then again from 1989 to 1998. He became CM again in 2013. The BJP, indeed, no other party, has a leader who has the personality or popularity of Lalthanhawla. That the popularity of the MNF is nothing much to write home about is proved by the fact that in 2013 it could win only five seats in a House of 40. The MNF’s formal position till now is that it is not going to have a tie-up with the BJP in the Assembly polls.
Economically, Mizoram is a fast progressing State. It had the second highest growth rate among the North-Eastern States at 11 per cent against the target of 7.8 per cent during the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12).
MNF, the main opposition party in Mizoram, was founded by the rebel leader Laldenga in 1961. It staged an armed insurgency in April, 1966 and “occupied” the Aizawl town. The insurgency continued for years till Laldenga and the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed a “Memorandum of Settlement” in June, 1986. The Constitution of the MNF says it upholds the principles of democracy and secularism.
Geographically, Mizoram is sandwiched between Bangladesh on the west and Myanmar in the east. The State occupies an important place in the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport System. It is an ambitious project to connect the Sittwe seaport in the Rakhine State of Myanmar to Kolkata by river and road route. It is expected to be completed by 2020. Once the project is completed Mizoram is expected to see a quantum jump in economic activity.
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