In Mizoram, BJP's trump card is development, not saffronisation
With the upcoming 2018 Assembly election, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla is busy implementing the New Economic Development Policy to retain voters
Political change is looming in the horizon of North East India. With the upcoming 2018 Assembly election, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla is busy implementing the New Economic Development Policy in the state to retain voters.
As per the vision plan published by the government, the new scheme aims at providing housing to all, along with markets and training facilities for farmers and small entrepreneurs, development of rural and urban infrastructure to ensure comprehensive growth.
In a brief interview with Firstpost, the chief minister said that the aim of the scheme is to provide economic benefits to the people.
But this is not the first time the Congress government in Mizoram that is ruling the state for the second consecutive term announced an economic development programme just before the election.
“During the second half of his previous term, Lal Thanhawla came up with a scheme named New Land Use Policy. In this scheme, grants upto Rs 1 lakh were distributed among people as capital to start small businesses,” said Lalhmachhuana, General Secretary of Young Mizo Association, a civil society body known for it’s historic role in Mizo identity formation.
“This scheme was instrumental in bringing Lal Thanhawla government back to power for the second consecutive term. One lakh is a big sum for the middle class and lower middle class section in Mizoram,” said a government official of Mizoram.
“Before the 2018 Assembly election, the government is extending the programme with a new name and with a bit modification, though how the monetary benefits will be distributed in this scheme is still not clear,” he said.
The vision plan says that the role of the government in the New Economic Development Policy will be to work as a facilitator of infrastructure to ensure that rural economy of the state is more market-driven.
Many in the Mizo intelligentsia view it as another freebie scheme to buy votes. “It is the same wine in a new bottle,” says a professor in Mizoram university.
“Election is the time when money and other freebies float in the air in Mizoram. The two major parties — the Congress and the Mizo National Front (MNF) — compete with each other by promising freebies to the voters,” he added.
“If Mizo National Front leader Zoramthanga promises Rs 3 lakhs per family in one scheme, then Lal Thanhawla will promise Rs 5 lakhs,” said BJP state General secretary Vanlal Kmuaka.
NDA ally Mizo National Front President and former Chief Minister of Nagaland Zoramthanga denies the allegations saying that it is the Congress that believes in money distribution schemes to attract voters. He also said that benefits of the earlier scheme were granted on the condition of taking Congress party membership.
“But my party MNF has taken true development agenda, by assuring every family in Mizoram two hectares of cultivable land for farming of bamboo, rubber, organic fruits and vegetables,” he added. Congress claims its policies as new paradigm of development.
Issues take backseat
“The standard of education in government schools of Mizoram is low,” said Helena Lalsawmkimi BJP state vice-president. Despite the high literacy rate, dropout rates in the primary schools of Mizoram has increased.
A study conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources Development in 2011-2012 showed that the dropout rate in primary schools of Mizoram was 14.3%, whereas Bihar showed a decline by 5%.
Mizoram fares poorly even in health care standards as well. A study conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India 2012 said that there was not a single specialist doctor appointed in the 36 Community Health Centres across the state. Even the number of doctors appointed in the Public Health Centres were far below the requirement. “There is a high prevalence of HIV patients in the state,” said Lalsawmkimi.
“Easy availability of drugs smuggled through Indo-Myanmar borders has led to addiction among many youths,” she further said.
“In 2015-16, the Young Mizo Association seized drugs valued at Rs 9.70 crores and handed them over to the government. Moreover, Rs 7 lakhs worth of arms and ammunition were recovered from smugglers in a joint operation with police department,” said the General Secretary of the association.
“But real issues hardly find their due importance in the time of election campaign,” said L Sailo, a teacher of history in the Mizoram University.
“The development agenda of Modi government is widely accepted by the Mizo people,” said Lalhmachhuana the General Secretary of Young Mizo Association.
“The Katakhal-Bairabi broadgauge railway line that became operative during the first two years of his tenure as the Prime Minister of India, has made transportation of food supplies to the state much cheaper and travelling much easier,” he added.
He also said that Bairabi-Sairang railway line, which will be completed by 2019, has also created much hope, adding that the completion of the ongoing Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project will usher in new employment opportunities for Mizoram by enabling import and export of goods from the region.
“But what does not seem to be working here is Hindutva. The church already seems to be on tenterhooks with the central government on yoga,” he said.
Recently, the church appealed to the Christian majority of the state, not to observe yoga day, stating that yoga may be used to convert Christians.
“We are having a difficult time in convincing the church and the people here, that Hindutva is not our agenda, but development is,” said JV Hluna, president of the state unit of BJP.
He also said that on account of this ‘wrong’ notion of the party, the results of Assam election might not have a favourable impact on BJP in Mizoram.
“Even a development agenda gets blurred, when promises of freebie schemes float all around,” said Vanlal Kmuaka, general secretary of state BJP unit.
“The state government received huge funds from the UPA government, a part of which is used in the New Land Use Policy. Now, the party wants to win election again by using the leftover funds in implementing another such scheme under the name of New Economic Development Policy,” he complained.
A source in the NLUP implementing board said that the amount of fund allocated for the scheme was Rs 1526.14 crores, of which a portion was utilized.
The BJP general secretary also said that there is allegation that a huge portion of the money spent on the NLUP scheme was misutilised. He also demanded an independent inquiry by the central government, since the funds were allotted by the Centre.
A source in the NLUP implementing board denied such misuse and added that only 1,039 numbers of beneficiaries of the targeted 1,35,000 were detected to have misused the funds allotted to them and they have been barred from receiving further benefits.
Adding that the cases of misutilisation could be more than what is shown in the official records, Hluna said that even distribution of money among the voters might not help the Congress this time around.
He also indicated that the ruling party may soon face dissidence. “Induction of Lalthan Zara, the chief minister's brother, to the Cabinet has created dissatisfaction among his colleagues,” he said.
When asked if BJP could come to power in Mizoram, the chief minister said, “Let us see. There are still two more years for the election to come.”
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