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An air of uncertainty

Print edition : Dec 05, 2003 T+T-

Mizoram is witnessing a three-cornered contest in the majority of its 40 constituencies and is likely to have a hung Assembly.

in Aizawl

MIZORAM, the only peaceful State among the `seven sisters' of the northeastern region, is likely to have a hung Assembly as none of the four major political parties - the Mizo National Front (MNF), the Congress(I), the Mizoram People's Conference (MPC) and the Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP) - is sure about getting an absolute majority in the November 20 elections. Most of the 40 constituencies spread across eight districts of the State will witness triangular contests with the Congress(I), the ruling MNF and the MPC-ZNP combine putting up candidates. Although politically insignificant, two other regional parties, the Lai People's Party (LPP) and the Mara Democratic Front (MDF), are also in the fray.

Significantly, the Bharatiya Janata Party, encouraged by its performance in the Assembly elections in March in Nagaland, where it won seven of the 60 seats, (the BJP is part of the coalition government led by the Nagaland People's Front) has for the first time decided to participate in the Mizoram elections. BJP national president M. Venkaiah Naidu told Frontline: "We are contesting only eight seats in the State just to pay our respects to the people of the northeastern region. They are accepting us. We have our representatives in the legislatures of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Now we are sure that we will get an entry in the Mizoram Assembly despite the Congress(I)'s vicious propaganda that the BJP is intent on driving out Christians from the region. This is a slanderous campaign against the BJP, which is committed to protect Indian secularism. The BJP would play a vital role in the formation of the government in Mizoram."

While the Congress(I) is contesting all the 40 seats, the MNF has fielded 39 candidates. According to a pre-poll agreement reached between the MPC and the ZNP, the former will contest 28 seats and the latter 27. However, while they will have "common" candidates in 18 of the 40 constituencies, there will be friendly contests in the remaining. The Janata Dal (United) is contesting 25 seats alone though it has hardly any political base or influence. Altogether there are 192 candidates in the fray.

Observers believe that the State's politics will take a new course after the elections. Mizoram, which became the 23rd State of the Indian Union in 1987 has since been under single-party rule, either of the Congress(I) or of the MNF. This time, in the event of a hung Assembly, both the parties will try their best to form the government by seeking the support of either the MPC or the ZNP. The MPC is closer to the Congress(I) than the MNF. The BJP has a cordial relationship with the present MNF government headed by Zoramthanga.

This is the fifth Assembly elections in Mizoram, which has 5,32,462 voters, including 4,266 Bru (Reang) voters who left the State following ethnic clashes between Reangs and Mizos and have been staying for more than five years in refugee camps in neighbouring Tripura. A section of Mizos under the banner of the Save Mizoram Committee (SMC) is up in arms against the Election Commission's (E.C.) decision to include Bru voters in the voters' list. While the SMC has declared that it will boycott the vote in protest against the E.C.'s decision, Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh told a press conference in Aizawl on November 11 that the Bru voter problem, which threatened to disrupt the November 20 polls, "is a political matter" and not within the purview of the E.C. "The E.C. is only concerned that Indian citizens are not disenfranchised. We cannot exclude those Brus who have already been enrolled in old electoral rolls and it is our job to see that their rights are not denied," he said.

MIZORAM, which shares its border with Assam, Tripura, Manipur, Myanmar and Bangladesh, attained statehood following the June 1986 peace accord between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the MNF chief Laldenga, who led an insurgency for 20 years. In the first Assembly elections, held in February 1987, the MNF came to power with a big majority and Laldenga became the Chief Minister. However, defection from the MNF led to the fall of the Ministry. Mid-term elections were held in January 1989 and the Congress(I) won 23 seats. Its strength later increased to 25 when two MNF MLAs joined the party. State Congress(I) president Lal Thanhawla became the new Chief Minister and completed his five-year term. In the third general elections in 1993, the Congress(I) won 16 seats and formed the government with the support of eight MLAs of the Mizo Janata Dal (MJD). Later the MJD parted ways with the Congress(I) and formed the MPC. However, Lal Thanhawla managed to stay in power and completed his term with the support of five MNF MLAs who defected to the Congress(I). In the fourth general elections in 1998, the MNF led by Zoramthanga came to power. The MNF got 21 seats while its electoral ally MPC got 12 seats. The Congress(I) got only six. Although the MPC later parted ways with the MNF, the government headed by Zoramthanga completed its full term.

In the last Assembly elections, Lal Thanhawla was defeated by MNF candidate K. Thangzuala in the Serchhip constituency. This time he is contesting against Zoramthanga in the Champai constituency. In 1998, Zoramthanga won from Champai and Khawbung. Later he vacated the Khawbung seat. In the 1999 byelection for the Khawbung seat, the MNF candidate and a close associate of Laldenga, B. Zaliana, defeated his Congress(I) rival. Zaliana's victory helped the MNF achieve a simple majority in the Assembly.

Although represented by Zoramthanga, Champai faces several problems. One of them is related to Chin refugees from Myanmar, some of whom have come together to form a militant outfit to "secure their rights". The State government recently took action against the Chin refugees, who continue to be a force in Champai. The real big influx was of Chin refugees into Mizoram after the 1988 crackdown by the Myanmar Army against the democracy movement. Refugee camps were set up in Champai, a place rich in natural beauty.

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