Mizoram: ZPM’s landslide victory signals clear mandate for change

The decisive victory of Zoram People’s Movement, led by Lalduhoma, rejects MNF and BJP’s Hindutva. 

Published : Dec 13, 2023 12:05 IST - 9 MINS READ

ZPM leader Lalduhoma, who took oath as Chief Minister on December 8.

ZPM leader Lalduhoma, who took oath as Chief Minister on December 8. | Photo Credit: PTI

Elections change governments. But the ninth Assembly election in Mizoram not only changed the government, it rewrote political history. The 35-year-old saga of the Congress and the Mizo National Front (MNF) alternating in power ended, and a third party came to power.

History was made in other ways too: The Congress recorded its worst-ever performance. Chief Minister Zoramthanga of the MNF lost to a low-profile candidate. A six-year-old party, the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM), defeated the 60-year-old MNF, winning 27 of the 40 seats. For the first time, three women were elected to the Assembly. For the first time, only two sitting Ministers won. And for the first time, a single party won all 12 seats in Aizawl city.

In the previous Assembly election, the MNF won 27 seats; this time the ZPM won 27 seats. The party that wins Aizawl wins the State, with the urban vote being the decisive vote because 30 per cent of the voters live in Aizawl and 30 per cent of the Assembly seats are in the city. This time, urban voters rejected the MNF’s promises of economic development as well as the slogans of Mizo nationalism, placing their faith instead in the ZPM’s utopian socialism. The Mara tribal community expressed confidence in the BJP, but the Chakma did not, and the Congress was sent into cold storage.

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The MNF and the Congress have traditionally had a strong presence in rural areas, and both parties as well as the BJP won the rural seats. But the politics of Mizoram has become urban-centric in recent years, and the ZPM won 27 seats in most of the urban areas. Although the ZPM has priority areas such as agricultural development, it focussed on governance and financial reforms, resource mobilisation, and corruption-free and transparent government, which are urban-centric issues.

Zoramthanga government’s failures

The Zoramthanga government was weak in financial management, it failed to control corruption in its five-year rule, and did not fulfil even one of its 2018 election promises. However, Zoramthanga’s popularity, especially his active support for the displaced Chin people of Myanmar and his strong espousal of Mizo nationalism, was a factor that led many to believe that he might come back.

In this he was undone, largely by widespread anger among youth and by a simmering resentment among government employees. Mizoram’s government employees have gone on strike twice in recent years, demanding regular salary payment every month and a return of the old pension scheme. They claimed that contractors’ bills were passed within a few days, but employee salaries and other payments were left pending for months. For the first time in the electoral history of the State, there was an anti-incumbency vote from government employees.

The other factor contributing to Zoramthanga’s defeat was his government’s laxity in implementing the liquor ban in the State. In Mizoram, leaders of civil society organisations and the Church play an influential role. No political party is unaffected if it disagrees with these two non-state factors.

The Congress lost the 2018 elections because the Lalthanhawla government lifted the ban on liquor and enacted a law giving women the right to ancestral and family property, ignoring customary laws and displeasing churches and NGOs.

Even as these were the apparent sources of unhappiness, Zoramthanga put the slogan “Mizo-Zomi-Kuki ethnic tribal unity” and the ideology of Mizo nationalism at the centre of his election campaign, which did not work. The MNF has a loose alliance with the BJP, but there has been distrust, non-cooperation, and uneasy politics since 2019 between the Centre and the State. The MNF refused to include the BJP’s only MLA, B.D. Chakma, in the government, and in turn the Union Home Ministry did not accede to the MNF’s demand to remove the Assam Rifles headquarters located in the centre of the city.

A shelter for displaced Myanmar nationals in the Zokhawthar area in Champhai. Zoramthanga’s popularity, especially his active support for the displaced Chin people of Myanmar and his espousal of Mizo nationalism, was a factor that led many to believe that he might come back.

A shelter for displaced Myanmar nationals in the Zokhawthar area in Champhai. Zoramthanga’s popularity, especially his active support for the displaced Chin people of Myanmar and his espousal of Mizo nationalism, was a factor that led many to believe that he might come back. | Photo Credit: ANI

The biggest conflict has been about the displaced Chin people of Myanmar, with Zoramthanga refusing to have their biometric identification done. While Mizo nationalism helped the MNF gain in western Mizoram, Kolasib, Mamit, and Chakma areas, it does not seem to have worked elsewhere.

This time it was local issues that dominated the elections and a strong anti-incumbency wave in the urban areas. Even the much-publicised Socio-Economic Development Programme (SEDP) of the Zoramthanga government could not bring the party back to power. However, it was this scheme that helped the party maintain its hold in rural areas across the State.

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Another important but overlooked factor is that in the MNF government, all policies and decisions had become centralised in the hands of Zoramthanga, which lost him the support and trust of the public.

These elections are also being seen as a vote for Lalduhoma, who has been in active politics for 40 years. However, due to his ideological deviations and tendency to switch parties, he could never become an alternative to the Congress and the MNF. Lalduhoma himself, however, is known as a down-to-earth politician and diehard fighter.

This time the public voted for him, wanting to give him a chance as Chief Minister. While Lalduhoma has been talking of new options for the State’s economic development since 2008, he did not have a viable and stable political party. The establishment of the ZPM in 2017 gave his alternative politics a new direction, with even many dissatisfied Congress and MNF workers joining him.

Another important factor at work this time was the silent understanding between the ZPM and the BJP. Since relations with the MNF had soured, the BJP moved towards the ZPM, and an informal electoral political partnership was formed between the two. During the election campaign, both parties remained so silent about each other that they would not even mention each other’s name.

Congress and MNF leaders have since claimed that the BJP helped the ZPM in the elections, in which an Assam-based politician is said to have played a role. ZPM leader Tete Hmar (now a Minister in Lalduhoma’s government), however, said: “Our party is a regional party with a national outlook. We will not form an alliance with any party outside the State.”

BJP’s Mizoram president, Vanlalhmuaka told ANI: “In the north-east region, all regional parties are working with NEDA [North-East Democratic Alliance] or NDA [National Democratic Alliance], and if ZPM needs us for the development of Mizoram, we are ready to support and work with the government.” In fact, however, the BJP put pressure on the ZPM to be included in the new government and claimed that the Deputy Chief Minister would be from the BJP. However, when the Cabinet was formed on December 8, neither BJP MLA was included.

The rise of ZPM

It was in 2018 that the ZPM became the main opposition party by winning seven seats in its first outing. After this, it created history by winning all the councillor seats in the first local body elections of the Lunglei Municipal Corporation in 2023. It was after this win that the ZPM emerged as a serious challenge to the MNF.

The ZPM’s slogan was Kalphung Thar: Mipui Sarkar (New System: People’s Government), with its main campaign thrust being that the State has “had a Congress government, it is having an MNF government, now once ZPM”. Party leader Hmar said: “People wanted a positive change and progress and voted for this.” Lalrinpuii, one of three woman MLAs and now a Minister in Lalduhoma’s Cabinet, highlighted the party’s core issues: “Our government will provide easy ways for farmers, especially women farmers, to benefit, for example with ginger, turmeric cultivation and bamboo-grass farming.”

The Congress, under Rahul Gandhi, had said while campaigning that the ZPM and the MNF were “entry points for the BJP” into the State, but voters did not like this sentiment expressed about regional parties. The Congress spoke of protecting Mizo identity and the special rights of the State and came up with the Tang Puina scheme. Even though the Congress fought hard, its message failed to resonate. Lalsawta, the party’s State president, is 80 years old and does not have a popular image nor did the elderly Congress leadership inspire a positive environment and confidence among young and aware voters. In the rural areas, Congress votes were largely transferred to the MNF.

While the BJP has won both seats in the Mara Autonomous District Council (ADC), the votes are based on the profile of the candidates and not the party. In the ADC, leaders change parties, but supporters stay with the leader.

The BJP seriously contested five seats in the Mara, Chakma, and Bru areas: two each in the Mara and Chakma regions and one in Mamit. It lost in Chakma and Mamit even though its star campaigners went to all five seats. While election promises of direct funding to ADC areas and participation in Central schemes seem to have swung the two Mara seats, voters elsewhere have completely rejected the BJP.

Highlights
  • The ninth Assembly election in Mizoram rewrote political history, ending the 35-year cycle of alternating power between the Congress and the MNF. The six-year-old ZPM emerged victorious, claiming 27 of the 40 seats.
  • Urban voters, disillusioned by the MNF’s promises, placed their faith in ZPM’s vision of “utopian socialism”. The MNF’s centralised control and decision-making process also contributed to its defeat.
  • The new government has prioritised austerity measures and the direct purchase of cash crops from farmers. A committee will be formed to explore ways to optimise existing resources and maximize their effectiveness.

Despite charges of the ZPM’s silent agreement with the BJP, the mandate conveys the electorate’s negative sentiments towards Hindutva ideology. Churches continue to play an important role in Mizo society. The biggest challenge before the new government will be to cooperate and harmonise with the Central government.

There is unlikely to be any change in the Mizoram government’s stand on the displaced Chin-Kuki people of Manipur and Myanmar. Political parties, civil society organisations, and churches are unanimous on this matter. “We will continue our support to Manipur’s displaced people and refugees of Myanmar and Bangladesh, and we will try to enhance their welfare further,” said one such civil society representative. For the public, economic promises are more important than emotional political issues. “The State has a high amount of Central debt. This is a big challenge. Our government will take austerity measures first,” newly elected ZPM MLA B. Lalchhanzova, now a Minister of State, told the media.

Announcing the ZPM government’s priorities for the first 100 days, Chief Minister Lalduhoma said the government would implement austerity measures to tide the State over its financial problems. He said the Council of Ministers would cut down expenses and government employees should follow suit. “No major developmental works will be initiated during the first fiscal year. However, the State government will purchase four cash crops, ginger, turmeric, chili, and broom [grass], from farmers at minimum support price,” he said.

The SEDP scheme, one of the flagship programmes of the Zoramthanga regime, would be put on hold and a committee constituted to explore ways to optimise existing resources.

Suwa Lal Jangu is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Mizoram University, Aizawl.

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