By Ashis Biswas
In Mizoram, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces its most difficult political battle in the coming Assembly elections because of its irrefutable failure to control the worst ethnic riots in neighbouring Manipur state. Its main political backers in the state, the Mizo National Front (MNF) will not participate in a joint political campaign with the BJP, after what has happened in Manipur.
Except for Assam and Tripura, where the Christians are not in a majority, the BJP’s determined foray into the Northeast has not been noticeably successful elsewhere.
The BJP’s alliance with the ruling Mizo National Front party (MNF) has been a nuanced arrangement: with its lack of numbers in the 40-strong house, the saffron party has been content to play junior partner. The MNF had 28 members in the outgoing Assembly. At the central level however, the MNF generally supports the BJP-led NDA coalition.
Among more orthodox Christian voters in the NE region, there were always reservations about the saffron party’s guiding philosophy and policies. Christian organisations were concerned over what they saw as disturbing signs of an aggressive ‘Hindutva’ mindset within the BJP– its allegedly majoritarian approach with an unabashed favouritism for commonly perceived Hindu ideals and value.
Their fears have fructified amply during the recent violent clashes involving the indigenous majority Meitei community and Christian tribals like the Kukis, Zos etc. Worse, the palpable mishandling of the situation by state as well as the centre during the long post violence period, which needlessly prolonged group hatred and violence, has further hardened Christian sentiments.
Altogether 180 people have been killed in Manipur, although unofficial estimates put the figure higher. Property, houses and business worth at least Rs 200 crore have been destroyed. Mizoram was directly impacted with currently over 40,000 refugees from Manipur and Myanmar living in special relief camps on its territory.
In this sticky situation, naturally the MNF has not found it advisable to advertise its links with the ruling party at the centre. Thus, Chief Minister Zoramthanga would avoid a joint campaign with the BJP. He would not even share the dais with Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi, who is scheduled to visit the state and address meetings etc, on October 30. Not beating about the bush, the CM told the media that he had decided to stay away from the BJP’s local political programmes because Mizoram was a Christian majority state.
It needs stressing that there were also other niggling irritants in the centre-state relationship, as far as Mizoram is concerned. As earlier reported in these columns, Zoramthanga and the MNF generally were upset with the quantum of centre’s financial assistance provided to the state, to meet the running costs of relief camps for political refugees escaping from the civil war in Myanmar. The MNF had categorically told New Delhi that it could not simply close down the camps and forcibly halt the flow of unarmed civilians crossing into Mizoram to save themselves.
The opposition party that is keen to make the most of the BJP’s discomfiture, having to campaign virtually on its own, deserted by the MNF, is the Congress. Unlike Mr Modi, Mr Rahul Gandhi, main opposition campaigner of national stature, has already made a two-day trip to Mizoram. He had ripped into the BJP, alleging that Mr, Modi could not find time to visit Manipur in its crisis, even as common people suffered. For Delhi, developments in Israel were more important. Congress has released a list of 39 candidates so far.
Following its recent policy of announcing ‘freebies’ for the electorate in its pre-election campaign, Congress has announced a general Rs 2000 pension for the senior citizens, as well special schemes and incentives for aspiring entrepreneurs . Subsidized LPG cylinders will be available, at Rs 750. This has revived the current discussion in political circles about such moves.
For some reasons, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal has been seen as the pioneers of the ‘freebies’-dominated political culture for the sake of winning votes. At the NDA level, the central government has denounced the move which in its view generated corruption and led to economic mismanagement and unbalancing of state finances. The judiciary too has not approved.
But it remains to be said, most major parties including Congress and the BJP in some states, have at the same time begun to offer easy populist sops, especially for the economically weaker sections of the society, at election time. In other words, they have turned followers of the much maligned TMC practice.
However, it may not necessarily help Congress very much. It is common knowledge by now that the party had won the recent Assembly elections in Karnataka for among other things, offering some attractive freebies for the weaker sections. After a few months, ruling Congressmen are finding it difficult to generate adequate resources to arrange for say, 10 kilos of rice free for the people — to give only one example.
At first the state Government was forced to declare that the financially better-off people would not be eligible. The state approached the centre for material assistance to keep its -pre-electoral promise. Not unexpectedly, it did not get much help. Currently, officials have announced that to start with, a free supply of 5 kilos of rice for everyone was being considered. Naturally, such speculation and reports have encouraged growing derision and resentment against the ruling government in Karnataka.
This has given the BJP a much needed opportunity to attack Congress directly for its alleged false promises and tall claims, for the sake of winning votes .The BJP is contesting 23 seats, while the MNF and main opposition party Zoram Peoples Movement (ZPM) are contesting all 40. For MNF 25 sitting MLAs and for the ZPM, six are contesting again. The size of the electorate is 856868, including 438925 women.
There are 174 candidates in the fray so far, including 23 from the BJP and 4 from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) .There are 16 women candidates. Results are expected to be announced on December 3. (IPA Service)