Every time Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga holds street corner meetings for his party the Mizo National Front (MNF), he brings up the ethnic unrest in neighbouring Manipur.
Zoramthanga, 79, has been holding such meetings at village Sihphir on the outskirts of the state capital Aizawl. This area falls under his Aizawl East 1 constituency.
The three-time Chief Minister has not only sheltered thousands of internally displaced Chin-Kuki tribes from Manipur, but has also taken a stand against the BJP government in Manipur led by his counterpart N Biren Singh.
Though the MNF is an ally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Zoramthanga – citing kinship and familial ties with the Chin-Kuki tribes in Myanmar – has openly given shelter to at least 40,000 refugees who fled from the junta rule in the neighbouring nation.
“We are not a partner with the BJP in the election. We are only a member of the NDA in the centre, not in the state. The government of India told me to push back Myanmar and Bangladesh refugees. But we have been sheltering them for years and India has given humanitarian services. Our stand on the Manipur issue is a big, big plus point in this election,” Zoramthanga told NDTV.
The MNF swept the 2018 assembly election, winning 27 of the 40 seats. Zoramthanga’s party has projected him as the “guardian of the Chin-Kuki-Zo tribes”, though his rivals and other parties like the BJP has accused him of corruption, not checking rising unemployment and drug trafficking, and poor infrastructure.
“The Mizo people did not like the MNF because they are still with the BJP. But the Manipur crisis has shown us what the BJP is all about,” Mizoram Congress chief Lalsawta told NDTV.
Zoramthanga has been a veteran of many elections; some he won, some he lost. But this time, he faces a tough four-way electoral battle with many parties in the arena. The Chief Minister, however, is optimistic the Manipur issue will help his party, which was founded by Laldenga, who waged a two-decade-long guerilla war against India for independence for a sovereign Mizo nation until the signing of a peace agreement in 1986.
“Multi-way fight is not new to me. We will form government comfortably. The BJP has fought against us for a long time, so the BJP fighting alone against us is not new. We are founding members of the NDA, but our support is issue-based. Any party seen supporting the Meiteis in Manipur would be suicidal in the Mizoram election,” said Zoramthanga, who at one time was a cadre of a Mizo insurgent group that declared independence from India in 1966.
“The ZPM (Zoram People’s Movement) is a messy mix of many smaller parties. They are not an organised party. They will try to grab anything to come to power. But people are annoyed since the ZPM is seen close to a party that is on the side of the Meiteis in Manipur,” Zoramthanga said, alluding to the BJP that is in power in the neighbouring state.
“I will keep prohibition on when voted to power this time. We will confidently form government on our own,” Zoramthanga told NDTV.
ZPM chief Lalduhoma said people are tired of the MNF. “Mizoram has been under the MNF for a long time. And people really want change in the way they are governed. They want to end corruption,” Lalduhoma told NDTV.