There were some celebrations in certain quarters here in Manipur when the results of Mizoram assembly elections were announced leading to the ouster of Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga and his party Mizo National Front (MNF) from power. There is sufficient cause also for such celebrations as Zoramthanga himself openly spoke and interfered in the internal affairs of Manipur which was in bad taste.
Expressing concern about the ethnic clashes and Kuki-Zo people residing in a neighbouring state and facilitating relief camps for those Kukis who came to Mizoram was okay. But as a chief minister he should not have gone beyond that. However, he played host to Kuki MLAs and other leaders from Manipur, provided a platform for Kuki-Zo leaders to reach out to international bodies and even joined a public rally invoking Greater Mizoram. In fact, he went beyond his brief and joined the hate campaign against the Meiteis, while also stoking the fire. This angered the Meiteis.
As predicted, Zoramthanga and MNF itself was ousted from power by a newcomer Zoram Peoples Movement (ZPM). Mizoram traditionally had a two-party system since it gained statehood in 1987, with the Congress and the MNF as the two parties. In the last elections Congress could get only 5 seats in the 40-member assembly and now it is reduced to one while BJP increased its tally. Rahul Gandhi’s magic and invoking his father Rajiv Gandhi who brought peace in Mizoram through the Mizo accord did not work.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi stayed away from Zoramthanga that he will not share the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he comes to campaign in the state even though MNF is a constituent of NEDA. Both the BJP candidates who won this time are from the Mara community. The main opposition party Zoram Peoples Movement (ZPM) has replaced the Congress as the principal opposition in the last assembly elections. In the 2018 assembly polls, Mizo National Front (MNF) got a majority by winning 26 seats, while the ZPM candidates contested as independents and got 6 seats. Interestingly, the ideology of both MNF and ZPM is Mizo nationalism. While MNF seems to remain stuck in ethnic nationalism, ZPM is promising change and economic initiatives.
ZPM leader and chief minister-in-waiting Lalduhoma, while talking to the media after winning the elections on December 4, said that zero tolerance on state corruption, bringing about financial reforms, balanced development in the state, investigation of corruption cases by the CBI and engaging with the issue of Zo-unification (with the Kukis and Maras of neighbouring Manipur) are going to be the main priorities of his party’s government.
Lalduhoma’s biggest challenge will be to fulfil the big promises ZPM had made to the voters, including on the Zo-unification issue. One of the biggest challenges for the new government will also be to bring financial mismanagement under control. Chief Minister-elect Lalduhoma said that his government would continue to provide shelter and assistance to refugees from Myanmar and those displaced from Manipur. Despite these commitments, it would be wrong to presume an interventionist role in the affairs of Manipur on the part of Lalduhoma who has a set of priorities regarding his own state. He would certainly empathise with the Kuki-Zo people in Manipur, but not as much as expected.
Nothing more is expected as the patience of Mizos of Mizoram might wear thin. Talks of Zo brotherhood would ultimately boil down to sharing of space and resources with those coming from outside the state. For how long they are going to support more than 13,000 people from Manipur who are taking shelter there after the violence in May. It must be quite burdensome to them. The Kukis began trickling in after violence broke out in Manipur on May 3, adding to some 40,000 ethnically-related people displaced from Myanmar and Bangladesh since February 2021. One must also understand that inter-community relations in Mizoram are not that rosy and Zo identity is still in the making.