Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM)

The supporters of the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) at the party's Mizoram Assembly election 2023 campaign launch. File photo

Will Manipur violence have domino effect on Mizoram Assembly election?

Hilly state set for pitched battle as ZPM emerges as formidable third player to take on MNF and Congress


A long-established bipolarity of Mizoram politics is all set to change with the emergence of a dark horse and signs of Congress’s revival at the last moment, posing a two-pronged challenge to the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF).

The electoral contest in the country’s second least populated state until this time was primarily between the Congress and the MNF.

For the first time, a formidable third player in the form of the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) has entered the contest for the state’s 40 Assembly seats, elections to which will be held on November 7.

'Anti-incumbency' factor

A relatively young party at just five years old, the ZPM has surged to prominence capitalising on a groundswell of “anti-incumbency” against the Congress and the MNF – the two parties that have been alternatively ruling the state since its inception in 1987.

The urge for a third political alternative had opened a window of opportunity for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has been ruling either directly or in alliance with regional parties in all the northeastern states except Mizoram.

Small northeastern states are heavily dependent on the Central grants. Hence, the BJP’s political plank of double-engine government, which essentially means the rule of the same party at the Centre and the state, had found resonance even in Mizoram, a Christian-majority state. So much so that Speaker of the state Assembly Lalriliana Sailo in April this year had gone to the extent of suggesting that the MNF should merge with the BJP for the sake of development.

There were indications that quite a few top MNF leaders, including Sailo, would be joining the saffron party ahead of the Assembly elections.

Manipur violence effect

But then ethnic clashes broke out between the Meiteis and Kuki-Zo communities in Manipur in May, changing the political equation in Mizoram.

The Kuki-Zo community of Manipur shares a strong bond with the Mizos of Mizoram for being part of the same ethnic stock. MNF president and Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga threw his weight behind the Kuki-Zo brethren in Manipur to emerge as a “patriarch” of the entire Zo-Kuki ethnic group.

Zoramthanga even took part in a solidarity march in Aizawl in July demanding an immediate resolution of the conflict in the neighbouring state. His party has even revived the demand for the unification of the Mizo-Zo community spread across the northeast under one administrative umbrella.

Failure of the BJP-led state and the Central governments to resolve the crisis in Manipur discredited the party’s much-touted double-engine model, casting a dark shadow on the party’s poll prospect in Mizoram.

Seizing the opportunity, the ZPM came up as a viable alternative to the MNF and the Congress. Leading the charge for the ZPM, is a seasoned political figure Lalduhoma, a former IPS officer who transitioned into the realm of politics.

“For over three decades, the electoral landscape in Mizoram has seen a recurring shift of power between the Congress and MNF, generating a palpable anti-incumbency sentiment against both the parties, particularly among the younger generation. It is evident that the ZPM has adeptly harnessed these sentiments to its advantage,” observed DR Zirliana, a veteran Aizawl-based journalist and political observer.

The ZPM had already made significant ripples in the 2018 elections, securing a notable eight seats out of the total 40. It's worth noting that at that time, the party had yet to be formally registered, and all its candidates had contested as independents.

"The growth and expansion of the ZPM over the past five years have been remarkable. Leading up to the 2018 elections, there was limited opportunity to establish a presence in the rural areas, with the majority of the seats won hailing from Aizawl constituencies. However, the landscape has transformed substantially since then, and today, the party's influence is discernible in every nook and cranny of the state," said K Sapdanga, the working president of ZPM and a former journalist, who foresees a promising path toward securing power in the upcoming elections.

MNF confident

Nonetheless, the incumbent MNF, currently commanding 26 MLAs, is unwavering in its determination to retain all of its sitting MLAs and secure the reins of the next government.

"The collective performance of our government and each of our MLAs has been commendable. There are strong prospects for our MLAs to be re-elected, and we may even expand our seat count," affirmed VL Krosshnehzova, the chairman of the MNF media cell.

In the 2018 elections, the MNF clinched 26 seats and bolstered its standing by winning two more in subsequent by-elections. Presently, the party maintains its grasp on 26 MLAs after the resignations of Dr. K Beichhua and Assembly Speaker Lalrinrliana Sailo.

Reflecting on the ZPM’s considerable momentum, Krosshnehzova commented, "ZPM or any party previously led by Lalduhoma has managed to create waves in each election cycle. However, the challenge has been converting these waves into actual votes."

“We are busy preparing ourselves for the upcoming Assembly polls. We are really hopeful that we shall be able to win the majority and form the government (again)... I am expecting between 25 and 35 seats,” Zoramthanga told PTI in an interview.

“As far as the Congress is concerned, if they can get one or two seats, we’ll deem them lucky; otherwise, they can get none... The BJP, at the most, might get two seats and they may also get nil... and our opponent, the ZPM, if they cross 10 (seats), the party will be lucky... Therefore, for us, there is a lot of chance to form the government,” he said, essentially stating that the electoral contest in the state would be mainly between the two regional parties – the MNF and the ZPM.

Congress banking on Rahul's visit

However, not many are ready to completely discount Congress's chances, particularly seeing the enthusiasm generated in the state over Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Mizoram from October 16 to 18, projected as an extension of his Bharat Jodo Yatra.

On the first day of his visit, Rahul took out a 2.5 km yatra from Chanmari to Raj Bhawan in Aizawl to “spread the message of love, peace and secularism.” The yatra received a huge response with people lining up in big numbers on both sides of the road to greet Rahul.

The Congress leader will also take part in another yatra at Lunglei in southern Mizoram on Tuesday (October 17).

During his stay, he is expected to interact with youth, church leaders, and representatives of civil society groups. He will also address a public rally.

The Congress party, which faced a significant setback in the 2018 elections – not only losing power but also being reduced to just five seats – is hoping that Rahul's visit would bolster its efforts for a resurgence ahead of the upcoming state polls.

Following the disappointing 2018 electoral outcome, the Congress has not fared well in subsequent civic elections.

After the retirement of its influential leader and former chief minister, Lal Thanhawla, the Mizoram branch of the grand old party is now under the leadership of former finance minister Lalsawta, popularly known as 'Mr. Clean.'

The Congress party has formed an alliance called the Mizoram Secular Alliance (MSA), absorbing two nearly defunct parties – the People's Conference (PC) and the Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP). While official candidate declarations are pending, it plans to contest all 40 seats.

Another contender in the election is the BJP, which secured its first seat in the last election in this predominantly Christian state.

The BJP is fielding candidates in all 40 seats, with a particular focus on securing four to five seats, potentially to become part of the next government.

With the presence of two influential figures, former Assembly Speaker Lalrinliana Sailo, and former minister Dr. K Beichhuau, the saffron party is expected to better its tally than in the previous election.

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