Mizoram Vidhan Sabha election: BJP and MNF keep distance ahead of polls, but bank on each other to oust Congress

Aizawl: While the ruling Congress in Mizoram is gearing up to fight the Mizo National Front (MNF) and its North-East Democratic Alliance partner the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it is the BJP and the MNF who are fighting to gain the upper hand the day before the polls open.

BJP’s Mizoram election in-charge Himanta Biswa Sarma unnerved leaders of the state's two stronger parties by suggesting the BJP might reach an understanding of sorts with dissenting MLAs of the Congress and MNF—if required—once elections are over. The MNF, however, is distancing itself from the BJP in view of the impending elections.

Narendra Modi with the Mizoram outreach committee. Image courtesy: Syeda Ambia Zahan

Narendra Modi with the Mizoram outreach committee. Image courtesy: Syeda Ambia Zahan

“It is the BJP leadership’s wishful thinking regarding the kind of alliance they think they can forge once the elections are over,” said MNF chief Pu Zoramthanga. “I think we won’t need any other political party to form the government in the post-poll scenario. We believe the MNF will win 25 to 30 seats in Mizoram with a comfortable majority.”

The former Mizoram chief minister added,  “As far as Sarma’s statement is concerned, he can say anything as that is his privilege.” Zoramthanga believes the BJP will only win two or three seats in the 40-member Mizoram Vidhan Sabha.

The BJP, on the other hand, is confident that Mizoram will have a BJP-led government if things go according to plans. State BJP president John V Hluna, who is contesting from Tawi constituency against former home minister and former Congress state vice-president R Lalzirliana, who is now with the MNF, said talks of post-poll alliance are, as of now, far off. However, he added that no one can determine what happens after an election. “There are instances of Congress leaders joining other parties. Everything is possible once the votes have been cast,” he stated.

The BJP, which has failed to open its account in Mizoram, is banking heavily on the anti-incumbency factor facing the Congress. Election in-charge Sarma is credited with making inroads for the BJP in the North East. A worried Congress has accused the BJP of using money to make rapid inroads and rise to power through the back door.

Congress spokesperson Maliana, while quashing Sarma’s suggestion of uniting with dissenters from other parties, said: “The reason why the BJP is coming up with such statements [about post-poll understanding with dissenters] is because the people of the state detest the BJP. The BJP knows that it can never form the government on its own and that is why it is banking on the support of the MNF.”

Sarma, on the other hand countered the Congress’ allegations: “We will come through the front door. We will surprise everyone by winning seats in Mizoram too. We have friends in the Congress and the MNF. If there is any shortfall [post-election], we have enough friends in both parties.” Political analysts believe the BJP and the MNF have a secret understanding and are maintaining a distance considering the ramifications they might face if they hobnob with each other prior to the election.

“The understanding between the MNF and the BJP is an open secret,” said Abhijeet Deb, a veteran journalist covering the North East. “They know in a state like Mizoram where Christians dominate every aspect of life, the BJP hobnobbing with the MNF will only dampen the MNF’s prospects. The BJP is seen and perceived as a party with strong right-wing mentality and Christians in Mizoram have always opposed that. In a predominantly tribal state, their [BJP’s] main motto is to form the government and ideological differences are irrelevant in the pursuit of power. Just as in Meghalaya, the NPP and the BJP, despite their differences prior to elections, came together later to form the government. The same might very well happen in Mizoram in case there is a hung Assembly.”

Maliana added, “The BJP is concentrating primarily on the Bru and Chakma-dominated areas. These tribes often find themselves isolated and marginalised by the mainstream Mizo community. The BJP might be trying to make inroads into Chakma and Reang (Bru)-dominated areas, but they face an uphill task as voters are divided between the BJP, its alliance partners and the Congress. Even Dr BD Chakma’s position [former minister and a Chakma tribe leader who recently quit the Congress to join the BJP] is under threat because what we apprehend from outside might not be true on the ground.”

BJP state president JV Hluna believes the past track record of the MNF under former chief minister Zoramthanga will dissuade many from voting for the party. Allegations of large-scale corruption and mismanagement of government funds will be a critical deciding factor for the electorate.

“The MNF might not realise it, but the BJP has made massive inroads in Mizoram,” said Hluna, who is confident that the BJP will win 10 to 12 seats and lead the government. “Whether they like it or not, they cannot form the government without the help of the BJP. They might think some senior Congress leaders joining the party will boost their prospects, but the reality is that the MNF leadership is much more corrupt than the Congress government under Lal Thanhawla,”

One thing is for sure: The BJP and MNF are is determined to wipe the Congress out from Mizoram. MNF chief Zoramthanga blames the Congress for antagonising the church by relaxing the ban on the sale of liquor, which, he said, resulted in the death of thousands over the past three years. According to him, the Congress will only win around 10 seats.

BJP workers claim they see a positive trend and their party is favoured in border districts such as Mamit, Kolasib, Lunglei and Lawngtlai. The opinions of the Mizo people about the BJP are divided between those fed up with the "failures of the Congress and MNF", who want to give it a chance and others who believe the right-wing alternative is not suitable for an ethnic state like Mizoram.

Mizoram badly needs development and that seems to be the primary concern for most of its voters, who are facing a Catch-22 situation: They either have to choose Mizo pride and ethnicity, or go for the BJP's development pitch, which its big names—including Prime Minister Narendra Modi—have pushed effectively.

The BJP’s ploy to bring the MNF, Mizo Zirlai Pawl and other ethnic groups under one umbrella might finally pay dividend, just like in Meghalaya where the BJP, despite only winning two seats, managed to form the government by brokering a deal with the National People’s Party (NPP) and other like-minded groups.

The author is a freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com

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Updated Date: Nov 27, 2018 17:23:06 IST

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