The bypoll for Mizoram’s Aizawl North 3 constituency began, in a sense, when the online news portal scroll.in published a report on June 29 about the idleness of local contractors because the state government had awarded most contracts to outside firms. The report detailed how CM Lal Thanhawla’s younger brother Lal Thanzara held more than a fifth of the shares in Delhi-based Sunshine Overseas at a time the firm’s business with the state PWD, which Lal Thanhawla looks after, grew “from Rs 6.83 crore (2010-11) to Rs 24.16 crore (2011-12).”
A month later, the opposition Mizo National Front called a press conference to demand the brothers’ resignation over the report. Over the following 10 days, Lal Thanzara, then MoS for health, ICT and minor irrigation, denied he held shares, claiming at one point he did not know he had been allotted shares and that he received no remuneration from them, before quitting on August 18. He later said he resigned so he can be properly investigated.
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The same day, the Zoram Nationalist Party released documents to show a firm owned by Lal Thanzara supplied high-protein biscuits worth Rs 22 crore to the state’s anganwadi centres through a contract with Mizoram’s social welfare department over seven years. Following this, the MNF filed an FIR with the anti-corruption bureau.
In end-October, however, the Congress announced Lal Thanzara would recontest the seat he vacated, a move critcised by the opposition that accused him of bluffing about his reasons for quitting.
Opposition candidate K Vanlalvena, who led the MNF attack, has been campaigning on the plank of the constituency being in a position to “script history by daring to be an opposition MLA’s constituency for the sake of righteousness” while ZNP president Lalduhawma, another opponent, has ridiculed Lal Thanzara by saying the shares and high-protein biscuits controversies show the CM’s younger brother seems to yearn to be a businessman again rather than a legislator and minister.
Lal Thanzara has promised to give half the money for his shares, should he get them, and points out that Sonia Gandhi too quit over office-of-profit allegations but went on to re-win her Lok Sabha seat. He has called himself the “home team” and labelled his opponents “away teams”.
In 2008, his first election, Lal Thanzara won by a margin of 5%, polling 36%. He became a parliamentary secretary in his brother’s fourth government. In 2013, his vote share rose to 46%. This time, he was elevated to minister of state with independent charge of three portfolios. Shortly thereafter, the government announced he would look after a dozen portfolios — three of his own, nine as an assistant to his elder brother, leading to a widespread view that he was being groomed for the state Congress throne.
Besides the allegations about his shares in Sunshine, he has been accused of interference in health department staff appointments, criticised for what some consider harsh remarks at a time the church opposed the lifting of prohibition and, most recently, ridiculed by an opposition leader when he declaring the information and public relations portfolio among the three he “gave up” when it is actually his brother’s.
Nevertheless, the huge Congress crowd that turned up at the first three-sided debate for the constituency points to the following he still has.