Playing the Piper

The Congress hopes to come back to power on the strength of its new land policy.

Published : Nov 27, 2013 12:30 IST

Chief Minister Lalthanhawla campaigning at the Thenzawl constituency on November 18.

Chief Minister Lalthanhawla campaigning at the Thenzawl constituency on November 18.

IN 2008, the Congress returned to power in Mizoram ending the 10-year rule of the Mizo National Front (MNF) led by Zoramthanga on the promise of a new land use policy. The ruling party’s main election plank for the November 25 Assembly elections is the New Land Use Policy (NLUP), the flagship programme of Lalthanhawla’s government. The core objectives of the NLUP is to wean farmers off jhum (slash-and-burn cultivation) practices and assist them in economic ventures, to keep 60 per cent of Mizoram’s total land area as rainforest, and to improve the income of the rural and urban poor through sustainable farming, micro-enterprises, and small and cottage industries. The Congress campaign dwells on how it has delivered on its promise.

In the 2008 Assembly elections, the Congress won 32 of the 40 seats in Mizoram (with 38.89 per cent of the votes). The rest was shared among the Mizo National Front (MNF) with three seats (30.65 per cent of the votes), the Mizoram People’s Conference (MPC) and the Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP) with two seats each (10.38 per cent and 10.22 per cent of the votes respectively), and the Maraland Democratic Front (MDF) with one seat (0.84 per cent of the votes).

As more than 60 per cent of the State’s population is dependent on agriculture, the Congress’ poll promise in 2008 found takers among farmers, whose crops were destroyed by the impact of “mautam”—the phenomenon of gregarious bamboo flowering that occurs at an interval of 47-50 years and subsequent destruction of crops by rodents and insects. In 2008, mautam affected 1,30,621 families in 769 villages in Mizoram. Rodents and insects damaged wet rice cultivation on 16,132 hectares and jhum paddy cultivation on 1,25,345 ha.

Managing mautam People in Mizoram believe that the flowering of bamboo results in famine as rats, after feasting on bamboo seeds, multiply in large numbers and attack crops. The famine caused by mautam in 1958-1959 gave rise to the Mizo National Famine Front (MNNF) in 1960, which was rechristened the Mizo National Front (MNF) in 1961. The MNF led a two-decade-long insurgent movement from 1966 and finally signed a peace accord in 1986 with New Delhi, following which Mizoram was declared the 23rd State of the Indian Union on February 20, 1987.

The MNF formed the first government in the State with Laldenga as Chief Minister. In 2008, the MNF, which grew out of mautam, failed to withstand the political devastation caused by bamboo flowering. This allowed the Congress to ascend the throne.

In this year’s Independence Day speech, Lalthanhawla claimed that the target to benefit 1,20,000 farmers under the Rs.2,873.13-crore NLUP launched in January 2011 had been achieved in the first three years and 15,000 more beneficiaries were proposed to be covered in 2013-14. He claimed the project had made a significant impact on the economy by providing alternative and sustainable livelihood opportunities to farmers by reducing their dependence on jhum practice.

The first NLUP in Mizoram was launched in 1985, but it was confined to four development blocks. From 1985 to 1992, the total fund released for the NLUP was Rs.21.16 crore. The MNF government led by Zoramthanga discontinued the NLUP and replaced it with the Mizoram Intodelhna Programme (MIP) in 2002. As many as 53,288 families were given a financial assistance of Rs.11,000 per beneficiary under this programme. The total amount for the MIP was Rs.30.38 crore. Compared with this, the financial assistance to each beneficiary of the NLUP under the present government is Rs.1.26 lakh over five years.

The Congress hopes that the substantial increase in financial assistance to families traditionally dependent on jhum cultivation compared with what the MIP gave them will give the ruling party an advantage over MNF and its allies.

Mizoram has a history of voting out the ruling party after only two consecutive terms. The MNF, the MPC and the MDF, all regional parties, have formed an alliance, the Mizoram Democratic Alliance (MDA). These parties have released a common manifesto and, hoping to capitalise on the Mizo nationalism they seek to revive, pledged the reunification of Mizo-inhabited areas into one administrative unit with higher political status as per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007. The MNF is contesting in 31 seats, the MPC in eight and the MDF in one seat.

The MDA’s confidence stems from the vote share of the parties in the 2008 elections. However, the results of past elections show how the vote-share picture can be deceptive. The MDA has promised to undertake a Special Economic Development Programme (SEPD), claiming that it will bring more benefits than the NLUP.

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