New Delhi: At the end of this year, Mizoram will be the last of four states in the Northeast to have an assembly election in 2023.
Compared to the larger states going to polls – say, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – there is little commentary in the mainstream media about what is unfolding in an election year in the Northeastern border state, which is ruled by an ally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Mizo National Front (MNF). In 2018, the MNF toppled a two-term Congress government led by Pu Lalthanhawla, leading the party’s top leader Pu Zoramthanga to become the chief minister.
Ahead of this year’s election, the buzz among the voters and the political entities in Mizoram has been whether the MNF would return to power for another term. If the party does win the polls, Zoramthanga would create history by becoming the longest-serving chief minister since Mizoram became a state in 1987.
However, a development this past week has made the battle for power interesting in Mizoram.
On March 29, residents of the municipal council of Lunglei voted for the first time in a civic poll. Until recently, the tiny state had only one urban civic body, the Aizawl municipal council. The counting of votes of the maiden Lunglei civic polls threw up a result that left even the winners astonished.
While the ruling MNF scored a zilch, the dark horse turned out to be the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM), a relatively new party which took not just the Congress but also the MNF by the horns.
ZPM was formed in 2017 as an alliance of three parties with the express aim of forming a non-Congress, non-MNF government in the state. Later, three other parties – including the Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP), a former ally of the BJP – also joined the alliance.
Together, the alliance contested 36 of the 40 assembly seats in 2018, getting considerable media attention in the run-up to voting for turning the polls into a three-corner contest. The alliance managed to win eight seats in those elections. Winning a fifth of the house was considered a successful debut for the alliance.
In 2020 though, the ZNP walked out of the ZPM, accusing the party leaders of a “dictatorial style” of functioning. Formed in 1997, the ZNP is recognised as a state party by the Election Commission of India. In 2014, for a short while, it entered into an alliance with the BJP but stepped back after considering its unpopularity in the state.
The ZPM, though, was recognised as a state party only in 2019 – which had forced all candidates contesting the 2018 polls, including the then ZPM president Pu Lalduhouma, to fight as independent candidates.
However, the Lunglei Municipal Council (LMC) poll results have come as an indicator of rising anti-incumbency sentiment. The ZPM swept the March 29 LMC polls, pocketing all eleven wards. As per local media reports, ZPM wrested 49.31% of the votes. The MNF, which also contested all the seats, could get only 29.4% of the votes. The Congress, which also fielded candidates in all the wards, bagged 20% of the votes. Meanwhile, the BJP – which contested nine seats – secured only 0.75% of the total votes.
‘Will give tough fight’
Speaking to The Wire from Aizawl, ZPM working president Pu Sapdanga categorically termed the civic body poll results as “surprising for the party”. He said, “Before the municipal polls, all the parties including the ruling MNF had said that its results will surely indicate the result of the assembly polls.” He was hinting that his party’s chances of giving a tough fight to the MNF have certainly increased now. The LMC area covers seven assembly constituencies.
In the last assembly elections, ZPM kept equidistance from the Congress and the MNF. A section of the media had asked if the ZPM, if it were to win a sizeable number of seats, would ally with the BJP. Because of concerns regarding the BJP’s Hindutva agenda in the Christian majority state, all regional entities – even NDA ally MNF – had rejected the saffron party’s overtures for a pre-poll alliance. The BJP ultimately succeeded in weaning away a Congress MLA who belonged to the Chakma community in the state, where the party and its ideological fount, the Rashtriya Swwayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have worked on the ground. Buddha Dhan Chakma became the sole BJP MLA to have won the 2018 assembly polls in Mizoram.
Asked categorically if the ZPM would go for a pre-poll alliance with any national party in the coming assembly polls, Sapdanga said, “ZPM has not discussed yet pre-poll alliance with any other party. We are actively preparing to go it alone.”
No doubt, this turn of events has also shown that the 2023 polls in Mizoram are once again turning into a three-corner contest.