Manipur strife casts shadow as Mizoram goes to ‘unpredictable’ polls today

Manipur strife casts shadow as Mizoram goes to ‘unpredictable’ polls today

The plight of the Kuki-Zomi people of Manipur who are ethnically related to the Mizos of Mizoram has been a major poll issue in the State with the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) being the most vocal about it. File

The plight of the Kuki-Zomi people of Manipur who are ethnically related to the Mizos of Mizoram has been a major poll issue in the State with the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) being the most vocal about it. File
| Photo Credit: PTI

GUWAHATI

Altogether 8,57,063 voters, including 4,39,026 women, will elect representatives to the 40-member Mizoram Assembly on Tuesday in the aftermath of the ethnic violence in adjoining Manipur.

The plight of the Kuki-Zomi people of Manipur who are ethnically related to the Mizos of Mizoram has been a major poll issue in the State with the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) being the most vocal about it.

The MNF, headed by Chief Minister Zoramthanga, is contesting all 40 seats. Regional challenger Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) and the Congress are also contesting all the seats followed by the BJP in 23, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in four while there are 27 Independent candidates.

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As was the case in 2018, mandate 2023 is expected to be a triangular contest among the MNF, ZPM, and Congress despite the BJP putting in a lot of effort to up its tally from one seat five years ago. But political observers say the election this time is more unpredictable. 

The MNF, battling anti-incumbency and failure on the development front, is banking on the issue of ‘Zo unification’ to retain power. The term refers to bringing all largely Christian communities belonging to the Zo family – Mizos, Kuki-Zomis, Chins of Myanmar, and Kuki-Chins of Bangladesh – together.

The MNF had been rattled by the ZPM’s rise in urban centres after the latter swept the civic body elections in central Mizoram’s Lunglei in April. But the Manipur crisis offered the MNF a lifeline, particularly after more than 12,500 (now about 11,000) Kuki-Zomi people from Manipur took refuge in Mizoram.

In its election manifesto, the MNF pledged that the Zos would be united with “higher authority” in accordance with the United Nations’ 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The MNF stoked the Zo sentiments again when his government defied the Centre’s directive and refused to collect the biometric and biographic data of more than 34,000 Chins and Kuki-Chins from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“We have people with same affinity in Manipur. They are in favour of the MNF’s return to power,” Mr. Zoramthanga told The Hindu a few days ago.

His government, however, faced flak for “cheating” the people with the flagship Socio-Economic Development Policy (SEDP) that helped it end 10 years of Congress rule. The SEDP promised beneficiaries ₹3 lakh each for agriculture and allied activities, but the Congress alleged only ₹25,000 was provided, and that too for MNF workers.

The Chief Minister claimed the SEDP, unlike the New Land Use Policy of Congress, was a success and blamed his government’s inability to fulfil some of its 2018 promises on COVID-19 and the refugee problem from Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Manipur. He also attributed the rising drug problem in the State to the political crisis in Myanmar.

The MNF won 27 seats in 2018 followed by the ZPM – contesting as Independents then – with eight, Congress five and BJP one. The ZPM, which lost two seats later after byelections, hopes to defeat the MNF by promising a “new system of governance” and a corruption-free government riding on fresh faces.

While the MNF has been distancing itself from the “anti-Christian” BJP in the State despite being a constituent of the NDA, the ZPM has been staving off allegations that it struck a deal with the BJP in order to form the government. The theory gained currency after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the MNF and ZPM were entry points for the BJP in Mizoram.

The Congress is upbeat about returning to power as it feels the people would reject both the MNF and ZPM for aligning with the BJP. “People know Congress will never join hands with the Hindutva-professing BJP,” State Congress chief Lalsawta said, admitting shepherding the party after the retirement of five-time Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla was a major challenge.

The BJP, on the other hand, focused on seven seats in four districts – Lawngtlai, Lunglei, Mamit, and Siaha – where the minority Lai, Chakma, Bru, and Mara people have a sizeable population. Tuichawng, the lone seat it won in 2018, is dominated by the Buddhist Chakma community.

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