Mizoram, India’s second least populated State, where civil society predominates politics like, arguably, no other in the country, is poised to see a three-cornered battle in the Assembly elections scheduled in November. Unlike other States, Mizoram’s political contestation is less dependent on money and muscle power, as social service, public standing and the backing of religious and social organisations are key conditions for candidature. The ruling Mizo National Front has to contend not only with its traditional rival, the Indian National Congress, but also the Zoram Peoples’ Movement (ZPM), which has presented it a tough challenge this time. It is also facing desertion from its ranks with the Speaker, Lalrinliana Sailo, latching on to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Chief Minister Zoramthanga, a seasoned leader of the formerly insurgent MNF, has played the ethnic card to win support from the Mizo electorate. By championing the cause of the Kuki-Zo people, embroiled in an ethnic conflict in neighbouring Manipur and by ignoring a directive from the Union government to collect biometric data of refugees from Myanmar, citing their ethnic affinity with the Mizo people, Mr. Zoramthanga has tried to steal a march over his opponents. While all parties in Mizoram share the government’s and the ruling party’s view on this issue, the MNF’s vociferous positioning has given it an edge. During the peak of the conflict, civil society organisations managed demonstrations in solidarity with the Kuki-Zo people — an issue that has resonated with the Mizo electorate.
The ZPM, meanwhile, has sought to harp on the MNF’s record on development and to leverage on its surprisingly good performance in the Lunglei Municipal Council polls, which indicate its enhanced urban base. In the rural areas, the strongest opposition to the MNF has emerged from the Congress, which is leading an alliance of parties, including the People’s Conference and the Zoram Nationalist Party. Inflation has remained a key concern in the State, even relative to the rest of India over the past year, and this could be one of the factors behind voter choice. Despite being a small State — 0.1% of India’s population and contributing close to 0.1% of the national GDP — Mizoram is a crucial border State with ample potential for economic growth led by the services and tourism sectors despite being a largely agrarian economy. It has also been regarded as an important gateway in India’s ‘Act East’ strategy, but progress on infrastructure and projects connecting Mizoram to Myanmar and beyond has been limited. The multi-party contest should raise consciousness of matters related to development as much as those related to ethnic solidarity.