A handful of veteran Chakma politicians in Mizoram, including the state’s first Chakma minister, have left the state’s main political parties to join the BJP as the party’s state unit has plans this week to induct more people in areas dominated by ethnic groups generally perceived to have less than friendly relations with the majority Mizos.
The moves come as the state readies for elections to almost 550 rural bodies known as Village Councils, all of which will have an unprecedented five year term; the newly elected bodies will still be around in the next state assembly elections scheduled for 2018, in which the Congress hopes to script history by winning three consecutive terms.
BJP national secretary Ranjit Majumder, who is coordinating operations in the state where the BJP has never won an election and mustered less votes than NOTA in the last assembly polls, led Saturday’s ceremony in which Chakma politicians such as Nirupam Chakma (a former Congress Minister of State), A K Chakma (a former MNF legislator) and a host of others including former members of the Chakma Autonomous District Council or CADC were inducted into the party.
The CADC’s 81 village councils will go to polls on February 25, the earliest in Mizoram in the upcoming poll season. Dates for elections to village councils elsewhere have not been announced yet but are expected sometime in April.
The BJP’s state vice-presidents Laldinliana and Chalngura meanwhile told The Indian Express on Monday in Aizawl that party leaders will travel this week to Sakawrdai – the largest settlement dominated by the Hmar tribe in northern Mizoram – and then to the Hachhek assembly constituency in western Mizoram, an area dominated by members of the Bru tribe.
At both places, the leaders said, the party will induct new members, claiming several Village Councils have pledged to shift loyalties from their present political parties to the BJP.
The leaders said the party is seeking to work bottom-up by asking every VC or aspirant VC members what they need most and promising to deliver these but would not comment directly on whether the party’s focus on minority-dominated regions is a move aimed at the ethnic identities of the communities that live there.
Relations between Chakma and Mizo groups have been largely unfriendly for generations. It soured further in the past year over issues relating to illegal immigration of Chakmas from Bangladesh, as well as opposition by Chakma groups to the Mizo Students’Association’s (or MZP’s) plans to build a rest-house for Mizos in Borapansury, one of the largest Chakma-dominated settlements in Mizoram.
Politically however, Chakmas conventionally vote for the Congress party, and the Lal Thanhawla government currently has one Chakma minister. Another Chakma politician, former MoS Nihar Kanti Chakma, is a ruling Congress MLA.
The Hmar tribe is more often than not considered part of the Mizo community (Mizo being a generic term to encompass various tribes bound by similar dialects, customs and histories) but a militant group based out of Manipur that splintered from the main Hmar militant group which laid down arms in the 1990s has for years carried on the demand for an autonomous tribal district for the tribe under the Indian Constitution’s sixth schedule.
CM Lal Thanhawla recently accused the BJP of tying up with the militant group, the Hmar People’s Convention – Democrats or HPC-D, to garner votes for the rural body elections in exchange for a fulfilment of the latter’s demand, but BJP leaders have denied this saying they are not in touch with the militants.
The Congress, however, dominates in the Hmar-dominated areas as well, which covers three assembly seats, all of which currently have Congress MLAs.
The Bru tribe faced mass ethnic conflict with the majority Mizos in 1997 when a pro-autonomy militant group killed a Mizo official, leading to an ethnic backlash which led to tens of thousands of Bru tribesmen fleeing Mizoram for Tripura, where many continue to reside in squalid relief camps although thousands have returned home.
Ethnic tension sometimes rears its head, however, when Bru militants occasionally take part in cross-border kidnappings spearheaded by the National Liberation front of Tripura (NLFT), but there have been no reports of ethnic violence since 2010.
All assembly seats with large numbers of Bru voters, mostly in Mamit district, are currently represented by Congress MLAs.