High turnouts have been a feature of assembly elections in Mizoram, and its voters did not disappoint on Wednesday. This is remarkable for a state which, until the 1980s, experienced a violent insurgency. Ever since the insurgents turned stakeholders, electoral politics has emerged as the primary platform to initiate transformations in this small state. The presence of a vibrant civil society has enriched the quality of debate, with civil society alliances moving beyond advocacy to become watchdogs of electoral democracy.
While national leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, added spice to the election campaign, Mizo elections have mostly been a local affair. The governance claims of the two-term Congress chief minister, Lal Thanhawla, have come under intense scrutiny.
The two big issues that featured in the campaign were prohibition and development. The Congress government had lifted total prohibition in the state and introduced a permit system to regulate alcohol consumption. The Mizo National Front, the main Opposition, has promised a return to total prohibition, an agenda backed by the Church, a powerful influence in a state where 87 per cent of the people are Christians. An even more contentious debate took place around the welfare model the state ought to embrace. The Congress, which introduced the new land use policy that provides state aid up to Rs 1 lakh to build sustainable livelihoods, has promised a more expansive economic development programme. The MNF rivalled it with an agenda focussed on Mizoram’s predominantly agrarian economy. The alternative to the vision documents of the Congress and MNF has come from the Zoram Peoples Movement, a third front that includes small parties and groups, which rejects doles and proposes a revamp of the economic system.
The national dimension in the Mizo election lies in the centrality of the state to the Congress’s plan for revival in the region. Mizoram is the last Congress bastion in the Northeast. Since 2014, the BJP has been winning state after state in the region. It now has governments in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Manipur and its allies run Meghalaya and Nagaland. Though the MNF is a member of the North-east Democratic Alliance, it has refused to share space with the BJP in the state: Party chief Zoramthanga has said PM Modi is good for India but there is no place for the BJP in Aizawl. A loss in Mizoram will leave the Congress without a government in a region that sends 25 MPs to the Lok Sabha.