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Uncertain prospects

Print edition : Jan 02, 2004 T+T-

The new Mizo National Front government faces a serious threat from the Opposition, which has united under a resurgent Congress(I).

THE shadow of political uncertainty hangs over the Mizoram Assembly despite the clear poll verdict in favour of the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF). The MNF returned to power for the second time in a row, winning 21 of the 40 Assembly seats.

Its nearest rival, the Congress(I), came a distant second, winning only 12 seats, while the Mizoram People's Conference (MPC) and the Zoram National Party (ZNP) three and two seats respectively. The Mara Democratic Front got one seat, as did independent candidate H. Lalsangzuala. But with the Congress(I), joining forces with the MCP-ZNP-MDF alliance, after the polls, and Lalsangzuala said to be moving to their side, the Opposition coalition's strength may go up to 19. With Chief Minister Zoramthanga forfeiting Kolasib, one of the two seats he won (the other being Champai), the political fate of Mizoram hangs on the result of this byelection. If the Congress(I)-led alliance manages to capture this seat, Mizoram politics will be in a state of flux.

Lalsangzuala, who polled 2,195 votes, defeated his nearest rival Vaninmawia of the MNF by a huge margin of 1,843 votes. H. Ngurdingliana of the Congress got 221 votes, while the MCP-ZNP candidate H. Laltanpuia secured 194. Lalsangzuala was dumped by the MNF just before the elections. Pradesh Congress Committee chief and former Chief Minister Lalthanhawla told Frontline: "A lot of pressure is being put on Lalsangzuala by the ruling party to resign, but I have said nothing doing. If he wants to join us, he can do so." He also accused militants from the Hmar People's Conference of ensuring the victory of the independent candidate.

For the Kolasib constituency, the formidable combination of the Congress(I), MPC, the ZNP and the MDF, has already fielded a candidate.

According to political observers, the situation is most likely to lead to horse-trading. Neither the MNF nor the Congress(I) has ruled out a change of allegiance by parties and individuals. "We are not averse to aligning with like-minded parties," Zoramthanga is reported to have said. When asked if the Congress(I) would have any objections to allowing MNF members into its fold, Lalthanhawla told Frontline: "There has never been horse-trading in Mizoram and I don't welcome defections. But if some disgruntled elements, some people unhappy with the MNF leadership, genuinely want to tie up with the Congress(I), then they are welcome to do so."

THE MNF's only ally at this point seems to be the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which, encouraged by its success in the Nagaland elections in March, for the first time participated in the Mizoram elections but failed to open its account. The party's strategy of shedding its pro-Hindutva image and going out of its way to woo the Christian voters did not work. In fact, so dismal was its performance, that even in Chawngte, its most favoured constituency among the eight that it contested, it came a straggling third. The seat went to the MNF. However, the BJP's central leadership is believed to be engaged in talks with the MNF, chalking out a strategy to come out unscathed should the scales turn in favour of the Opposition. "We are not just fighting the ruling party; we are fighting the MNF and the BJP combined. Even though the BJP has absolutely no presence in the State, it still supports the MNF and is pumping in money for the sole purpose of destroying the Congress(I)," Lalthanhawla told Frontline.

The MNF's current performance is of the same level as in the last elections in 1998. The major reversal of fortune was in the case of the MCP, which won only three seats as against the 12 it won in the previous elections. The polls saw a kind of resurgence of the Congress(I). In the 1998 polls, the party was routed by an MNF-MCP combine; it won only six seats, 10 less than its previous tally.

Lalthanhawla, although he won in the Serchhip constituency, lost the much-hyped Champai seat to Zoramthanga. It is not surprising that Zoramthanga chose to give up the Kolasib constituency, not Champai. It was a neck-and-neck race for Kolasib. Zoramthanga defeated his relatively unknown rival from the MCP, C. Lalbiakthanga, by a margin of 91 votes. Other than the Congress(I), the ZNP with two seats and the MDF with one made some gains. The Janata Dal (United) and the Communist Party of India forfeited their deposits in all the constituencies they contested.

In the run-up to the elections, there were reports that the Congress(I) was plagued by dissidence. A large section of legislators were apparently unhappy under the leadership of Lalthanhawla. It was also reported that the PCC chief chose not to play any major role in the campaigning. However, dismissing these as "blatant lies", Lalthanhawla said: "I have not heard of any internal trouble in the Congress(I), and as can be seen in the elections, the State Congress(I) is on the rise again." He said that the MNF's victory was largely owing to its "money power". ZNP chief Lalduhoma called it the result of money power and the intimidation of voters and candidates. Brushing aside these accusations, Zoramthanga said that his party won because of the good performance of his government.

Some of the prominent MNF leaders who lost this time are, Health Minister F. Malsawma, Sports Minister Rualchina, Speaker R. Lalawia, Deputy Speaker Lalthankunga, and Vice-Chairman of the Planning Department Sanghmingthanga H Pautu.

Mizoram is a peaceful State in an otherwise troubled northeastern region. Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh has said that: "Mizoram is the easiest State to conduct elections." True to this reputation, this time too the elections were peaceful, except in the Suangpuilawn constituency, where miscreants reportedly disrupted the counting. While all the other results were declared on December 2, Suangpuilawn's was declared on December 8.

THE turnout of the Bru tribe was only 14.93 per cent of the 4,266 enrolled voters. Seventeen special polling booths were set up for them in two villages on the Tripura border. The Bru voters, at present living in refugee camps in North Tripura district, were brought to the booths in 200 vehicles and escorted by six platoons of Border Security Force (BSF) personnel. Local people had initially gathered to prevent the Brus from voting. They finally dispersed at the persuasion of the security personnel.

The Save Mizoram Committee (SMC), which from the start was against the Election Commission's decision to include Brus in the voters' list, said their inclusion would be challenged in a court of law.