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The rise of dark horse

 Will Zoram People’s Movement manage to end bipolarity in Mizoram politics?

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

Capitalising on a groundswell of anti-Mizo National Front and anti-Congress sentiment, the Zoram People’s Movement, a relatively young party at just five years old, has surged to prominence, imperiling the long-established bipolarity between the Congress and MNF.

Leading the charge for the ZPM is a seasoned political figure, none other than Lalduhoma, a former IPS officer who transitioned into the realm of politics. His journey commenced in 1984 when he successfully contested and secured a seat in the Lok Sabha, lending further gravitas to his political career. Before ZPM, Lalduhoma, now 74, had been in the Congress, MNF and also floated his own parties.

For over three decades, the coveted role of chief minister in Mizoram was a seesaw between two stalwart figures: Lal Thanhawla from the Congress, now retired, and Zoramthanga from the Mizo National Front, who is seeking a second consecutive term as chief minister from the Aizawl East-1 constituency.

In the inaugural elections to the first Mizoram state assembly in 1987, the Mizo National Front surged to dominance by securing a resounding 27 seats. The charismatic Laldenga, who had spearheaded the MNF underground movement for two decades, assumed the seat of chief minister. However, Laldenga’s MNF-led government was short-lived, collapsing after just 19 months due to party defections in 1988, which led to the imposition of President’s Rule in the state.

In 1989, the Congress party, under the leadership of Lal Thanhawla, made a triumphant return to power in the state elections. Since then, Mizoram’s political landscape has oscillated between governments led by Lal Thanhawla’s Congress and Zoramthanga’s MNF. (MNF’s founding leader, Laldenga, passed away in 1990, marking a significant turning point in the state’s political history.)

For both Congress and MNF, a two-term reign has become a sort of tradition, with each party enjoying consecutive terms in power since the 1989 elections. However, the prevailing scenario suggests a departure from this tradition, as the reigning Mizo National Front faces the peril of relinquishing power prematurely, with the Zoram People’s Movement emerging as a formidable contender.

“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, particularly among the younger generation. It is evident that the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) has adeptly harnessed these sentiments to its advantage,” observed D R Zirliana, a seasoned Aizawl-based journalist and astute political observer.

ZPM had already made significant ripples before 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 prominent journalist, who foresees a promising path toward securing power in the upcoming elections.

Nonetheless, the incumbent Mizo National Front (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 V L 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 Zoram People’s Movement’s (ZPM) 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.”

As per Krosshnehzova’s perspective, it’s worth noting that Lalduhoma, now 74 years old, formerly at the helm of the Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP) before establishing the ZPM in collaboration with other smaller parties, has consistently been the frontrunner in ‘most wanted politician for chief minister’ polls during the past four elections but has yet to steer his party to power.

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 making determined efforts for a resurgence ahead of the upcoming state polls on November 7. Following the disappointing 2018 electoral outcome, the Congress has not fared well in subsequent civic elections.

After the retirement of their influential leader, Lal Thanhawla, the Mizoram branch of the Grand Old Party is now under the leadership of former finance minister Lalsawta, affectionately known as ‘Mr. Clean.’ Whether Lalsawta’s ‘Mr. Clean’ image can revive the party is a question on the minds of political analysts.

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 23 seats, with a particular focus on minority areas where they aim to secure four to five seats, potentially becoming 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 poised to perform better than in the previous election, potentially winning more seats.

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