This is also the first time Mizoram has elected three women MLAs -- two from the ZPM and one from MNF.
The election results in Mizoram were along the expected lines. Anti-incumbency was imminent and the Mizo National Front (MNF) was tried and tested, and found wanting. The Zoram Peoples’ Movement (ZPM), a conglomerate of regional forces, was a movement for a new thinking that a progressive new generation of Mizos seeking change have voted for. The ZPM accused outgoing CM Zoramthanga of corruption and nepotism. Of course, Mizoram benefits from having an educated and near literate population (91.93%) and a largely informed electorate. The district with the lowest literacy rate is Lawngtlai (65.88%). If there is one thing that marks today’s Mizoram, and for which Aizawl, the capital, is the indicator, it is the spirit of enterprise of the youth. Several young women and men who have studied or been trained outside the state are now back nursing their own little start-ups.
This is also the first time Mizoram has elected three women MLAs -- two from the ZPM and one from MNF. The Congress has unexpectedly done very poorly, with only one candidate winning, while the BJP got two MLAs, one more seat since the 2018 election. The MNF is now reduced to 10 MLAs. Political observers from Mizoram say they are rather chary that the ZPM, a new party with several new, young faces and with an absolute majority, will not have to face a strong Opposition. Their view is that a strong Opposition will ensure better checks and balances.
ZPM leader Lalduhoma, a former IPS officer, who first cut his teeth in Goa and later became the security in-charge of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, will be Mizoram’s new chief minister. In 1984 he was first elected to the Lok Sabha, but also became the first MP to be disqualified under the anti-defection law. In 2020, Lalduhoma faced disqualification as an MLA, but returned after winning Serchhip. The new Mizoram CM therefore has quite a colourful political career.
In an interface with the media, Lalduhoma said the ZPM was formed in 2018 to provide an alternative to the people of Mizoram. He said people have had enough of the MNF and Congress and were ready for a change, and the ZPM would bring that much-needed change in the government and administration. What perhaps turned the tide against the Congress and MNF was that people have seen their performance since Mizoram was born in February 1987. The most well-known Congress face in Mizoram, Lalthanhawla, also the longest serving chief minister, faced serious charges of amassing disproportionate assets. He was linked to a businessman, Jodhraj Baid, and his accountant Puspa Sharma. Zoramthanga faces no such direct charges but is accused of nepotism.
In Mizoram, it has been either the Congress or MNF that people elected to govern the state. In 1998, the Congress lost to the MNF, which ruled for 10 years before the Congress wrested back power to rule for 10 years from 2008 to 2018. Again, in 2018, Mizoram elected the MNF to power. It is only to be expected that this power play between two dominant parties -- one riding the wave of Mizo nationalism as the party that signed the Mizoram Accord, which ended the nearly 20-year insurgency, and the Congress, with its claim of being a signatory to the truce and ushering in peace in Mizoram -- would one day wilt and people would aspire for change.
Lalduhoma has said his government would come up with a 100-day agenda that would set the state’s priorities. His statements after the win spelt out the ZPM’s broader agenda: to expand secularism and protect regional minorities. This is a direct challenge to the BJP’s idea of “one nation, one language, one religion”. It would not have been lost on the tribal Christians of Mizoram when former Lok Sabha Speaker Kariya Munda belligerently asserted that “those tribals who convert to Islam or Christianity must not get any benefits of reservation meant for tribals”. These utterances coming in the backdrop of RSS activities in the region and its intent to co-opt those practicing indigenous faiths in Meghalaya, for instance, and bringing them under the larger umbrella of Hinduism is jarring, to say the least.
But perhaps what also resonated with Mizoram’s people is the ZPM’s promise to reimpose the ban on liquor, lifted by earlier governments on the plea that Mizoram could use local fruit to produce wine and earn some revenue. Mizoram is also battling drug addiction and tackling this social menace too is the ZPM’s priority.
Interestingly, Lalduhoma has declared that the ZPM will not align with the government at the Centre but that the party would lend issue-based support to it. This is to maintain the prestige of the people of Mizoram, who voted overwhelmingly for the ZPM, and to remain an independent regional party “free from Delhi’s control”. No chief minister in the past has had the gumption to make such an overriding statement. On the contrary, all state governments in the Northeast, after being elected, tend to align with whichever government is in power at the Centre. The chief ministers contend that they need Central funds and it makes sense to be on the same page with whichever government is ruling in New Delhi. It is in this aspect that the ZPM bucks the trend. It remains to be seen if the Centre would put a spoke in the wheels as far as speedy allocation of development funds for Mizoram is concerned.
Recognising that Mizoram is an agrarian-based economy, the ZPM has clearly outlined its agenda for farmers. Lalduhoma said his government would procure ginger, turmeric, chilli and broomsticks at a minimum pre-determined price to support farmers. The priority given to farmers clearly shows that the ZPM has done its homework and its policies are well grounded. The incoming CM, having seen things from close quarters, also says the state’s finances are in a shambles and therefore an expert committee would be constituted to put fiscal reforms in place.
Another important commitment that couldn’t have been lost on voters is zero tolerance for corruption, and granting the CBI full permission to act in all such cases. Corruption indeed is the bane of all the northeastern states. Successive Central governments have tried to win the loyalty of the people in the region by giving funds, that unfortunately have landed in the pockets of a small tribal political and business elite.
Mizoram could show the way to the entire country in how it tackles corruption under a new government.