The Indian National Congress faced the final defeat in Mizoram marking its ouster from the entire North-East Indian region. The Congress had 34 seats out of 40 since the 2013 elections but has now been reduced to only 5 seats with the Mizo National Front (MNF) taking the steering wheel with a comfortable majority of 26 seats. The incumbent Chief Minister, 76-year-old Lal Thanhawla who contested from Champhai South and Serchhip, has lost both seats in the 2018 assembly election the results of which were declared on December 11. The once insurgent MNF, led by Zoramthanga, has registered a victory in the state on grounds of liquor prohibition and speeding up development in the state which has been ruled by Congress for ten years. In the last three decades, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla has ruled the state for more than 20 years in two consecutive terms from 1988-1998 and 2008-2018, while Zoramthanga earlier led from 1988-2008.
The MNF is a constituent of the North East Democratic Alliance, a political coalition formed by the BJP in 2016, with other regional parties in the Northeast such as the Naga People’s Front, Sikkim Democratic Front, People’s Party of Arunachal, Asom Gana Parishad, Bodoland People’s Front and the National People’s Party. Out of the eight states, the Sikkim Democratic Front stays strong in Sikkim and while BJP holds Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura after exceptional electoral performances in each, it is in government in Nagaland and Meghalaya standing firmly by its allies and finally with the emergence of the MNF in Mizoram, the goal of wiping out Congress from the Northeast has been achieved by the alliance. Minister in Assam BJP Government and convenor of NEDA, Himanta Biswa Sarma celebrated this in a tweet, while also congratulating Zoramthanga.
With Mizoram constituents of #NEDA will head Govt in entire North East. We worked towards it tirelessly for last 3 yrs under leadership of @narendramodi. Congratulations to Pu Zoramthanga for historic win of #MNF in #Mizoram. Meanwhile @BJP4India also opens its account in Mizoram
— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) December 11, 2018
The MNF has an insurgent background from the days when Mizoram was a district of Assam. After India gained independence from British Raj, the region was granted autonomous status in 1952 and renamed as Mizo District within the state of Assam in April 1954. A variety of ethnic conflicts rose in Assam and one of them was in Mizoram where the people were unhappy with the perceived indifference of the government, especially during a period of famine in 1959-60 caused by Mautam, a mass bamboo death event that hails every 48-50 years, resulting in a boom in rodent population exhausting all food grain reserves, and leading to the death of at least 100 people. In response to the famine, the Mizo National Famine Front was formed to provide relief to people. Led by the late Pu Laldenga, who is today revered as the “Father of the Mizo Nation”, the organization morphed into a political and insurgent Mizo National Front with a wing called the Mizo National Army, which declared war on the Indian government with the goal of attaining Mizoram’s independence from India.
IE: Mizo politician and former chief minister Laldenga. (File photo)
In 1966, the MNA launched its first attack on the camps of Assam Rifles and BSF in Aizawl. The situation deteriorated to the point that Indira Gandhi government decided to conduct indiscriminate aerial bombings in their strongholds marking the only time the Indian state air-dropped bombs within its civilian territory, on its own people. Interestingly, one of the Indian Air Force pilots involved in the operation against Zoramthanga’s predecessor was Rajeshwar Prasad or Rajesh Pilot, father of Sachin Pilot, a prominent face who also fought this round of elections in the other side of the country. The plane flown by Pilot was the Toofani or the French Ouragan, manufactured by Dassault Aviation. The MNF was pushed into the forests on the Mountains and for the next two decades, a gruesome secessionist insurgency continued in the Mizo Hills in the most violent form of jungle warfare.
The government, in order to fight the insurgency while Army operations intensified, resorted to controversially burning villages and uprooting nearly up to 80% of the population of the district, moving them to guarded centers called Protected and Progressive Villages.
By the early 1980s, Laldenga established contact with the government to explore ways to negotiate peace. He was also persuaded by the Church leaders to return to the mainstream. Pu Lalduhoma, the former security-in charge of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was later asked by Mrs. Gandhi to join the Congress in 1984, which he did and then brought back Laldenga from London to facilitate peace talks. In 1986, Mizo Peace Accord was signed and in 1987, Mizoram attained statehood. Pu Lalduhoma quit the Congress over a rift with party colleague Lal Thanhawla. Today, having vowed to end Congress’ rule, Lalduhoma’s Zoram Nationalist Party has secured 8 seats in the Assembly Elections and he has beaten Lal Thanhawla in Serchhip constituency.
The Church, in Mizoram, has always played the role of peacemaker and after the peace accord, Mizoram slipped into the guardianship of the Church which along with the people of Mizoram, has ensured a shining and peaceful democracy ever since. The church is overwhelmingly influential and its stance on any issue is usually abided by the people of the Christian majority state, with over 90% Christians. The church has in the past has blatantly hinted at staying away and not voting for the BJP which has been working hard to set up shop in Mizoram and whose vote share in this election has surged to 8% over the 0.37% vote share in 2013, finally debuting with 1 seat.
The Baptist Church of Mizoram
Germinating the loss of Congress’ last bastion in the region, several factors had been at play. In this election, the demand by the Church for absolute liquor prohibition took center stage. While the MNF abided by the Church’s stance and made an absolute ban on the sale and consumption of liquor its pet electoral issue, the Congress was for selective prohibition as is in the existing regulation since 2014. This defiance by Congress alienated the Church costing them dearly. The prohibition of alcohol as a gateway drug has always been debated with vigor in the state which has long been plagued with the prevalence of drugs supplied from neighboring Myanmar and Bangladesh. The ever-increasing demand for alcohol has also been an opportunity of the neighboring Chin state of Myanmar. Ethanol is smuggled into Mizoram from Chin for making a low-quality spirit. Mizoram has also fallen prey to methamphetamine and heroin smuggled from mostly Myanmar. The church organizations have regularly held awareness campaigns over the prevalence of drug use in the state.
The existence of deeply rooted corruption among bureaucrats, customs officers, and police agencies trailing up to the government was another bone of contention for the public. Resentment at unemployment and growing assets and income disparities in the state combined with the sorry state of roads and highways, and the failure of the government to take up development projects formed the major cause for the swing vote against the Congress in favor of the MNF.
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