Mizoram holds the key to whether the Congress will be able to retain even its depleted presence in the Northeast
With dates for five Assembly elections announced, all eyes are focused on the two large and politically crucial states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. However, it’s the smallest one in the list, Mizoram, which holds the key to whether the Congress will be able to retain even its depleted presence in the Northeast, or whether the Bharatiya Janata Party will sustain its recent successes in the region. The politics of the northeastern States is critical from the perspective of the country’s security, sovereignty and integrity — more than any other region with the exception of Jammu & Kashmir — and Mizoram is an important element in that overall scheme of things.
Mizoram is the last standing citadel of the Congress in the North-East, but that bastion is under attack. Party affairs are in a mess in the State; only recently, R Lalzirliana, one of its senior leaders and home minister in the Government of Lal Thanhawla, quit following differences with the chief minister. So did former health minister Lalrinliana Sailo. The party’s local leadership has tried to play down the development, claiming that the two Ministers had to leave because of serious allegations of corruption against them. But that does not explain the widely-held apprehension in party ranks that more desertions can happen in the run-up to the Assembly election, to be held on November 28.
It’s not just the problems that many Congress leaders have with the local leadership led by Lal Thanhawla. There is the fear of anti-incumbency too. The Congress regime has been in power since 2008, and the fatigue factor has begun to show. Many influential leaders have been rubbed the wrong way in the last decade that corresponded with the emergence of Lal Thanhawla’s iron hand. In the earlier years, dissident leaders had no option but to swallow the insult; they had nowhere to go. The main opposition party, the Mizo National Front (MNF), had been sidelined and over the years become quite ineffective. It had won just five seats in the 40-member House in the 2013 election, while the Congress had bagged 34 seats. Things have changed since then.
First, the MNF led by Zoramthanga has been strengthened by its partnership with the BJP, via the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA); the MNF chief is a founder-member of the alliance. Second, the MNF is upbeat over the departure of key leaders from the Congress and would be quite happy to accommodate the rebels. Third, it is banking on the strong anti-incumbency factor. And fourth, it believes that the BJP’s recent successes in the North-East, both in an individual capacity and through alliances, will impact the mood of the electorate in Mizoram too.
The BJP is content to let events play out in its favour. It will repeat the strategy it has deployed in the other northeastern States — that of cementing partnerships with local players and taking a subordinate position whenever the situation demands. In Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, the party tied up with regional outfits and outwitted the Congress in the electoral battle. In Assam and Tripura, although it swept the polls on its own, it still proceeded to form coalition regimes with regional parties. The BJP wants its NEDA experiment to keep delivering results, even if in the process it has to take a back seat in some cases. The BJP does not have a strong cadre in Mizoram, and will, like in the case of Meghalaya and Manipur, hope to ride piggyback on local allies to victory.
Incidentally, of the seven States in the Northeast, it’s the Meghalaya reminder that will trouble the Congress the most and elate the opposition equally as much. Prior to Assembly election in Meghalaya earlier this year, several leaders had quit the Congress (five among them were sitting Legislators). The party was defeated. Does a similar scenario await the Congress in Mizoram? Or is the opposition overly optimistic, given that the Congress is hardly a pushover in the state? We will know on December 11.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)