The scars of the horrific ethnic violence between Meiteis and Kukis – leaving over 70 dead and displacing more than 35,000 people – have not only hurt the image of the BJP state government in the northeastern state of Manipur but is also likely to have a political impact in the neighbouring state of Mizoram, which is slated to see elections later this year.
The Mizos, who share an ethnic bond with the Kukis as both of them belong to the same group known as Zo, believe that the Kukis have become the “victims” of Meiteis and the state BJP government also “favours” Meiteis.
Manipur Effect & No Naga Parallel
The Mizoram BJP is worried on two counts: One, that these allegations of neglecting the Zo tribes in Manipur is likely to hurt its prospects in the state; and secondly, with elections round the corner, its rivals are likely to turn the violence into an important poll issue and portray it as an “anti-Mizo party”.
That’s the reason the Mizoram state unit of the BJP concluded in its state executive meeting that the demand of the 10 Kuki MLAs of Manipur for a separate administration is reasonable. This is an attempt by the party to mitigate the impact of the violence in the upcoming elections.
In Christian-dominated Nagaland, the BJP had got acceptance as it was able to pool significant local leaders and also groom young leaders like current state party president Temjen Imna Along, and make alliances with dominant state regional parties like Naga People’s Front and the currently dominant Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party.
However, in Mizoram, the party lacks pan-Mizoram popular faces. That’s the reason the party isn’t a strong force in the Mizo areas. Consequently, the Mizo-dominated parties like the ruling Mizoram National Front or the opposition Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) are hesitant to ally with the party.
No Opposition Vacuum
In most states where BJP has done well in recent times, it was merely filling the opposition space vacated by another party. Although Congress has been on decline in Mizoram after losing power in 2018, the BJP isn't able to capitalise in the Mizo-dominated areas due to the presence of ZPM, which had ended the long Congress-MNF bipolarity in the 2018 elections and is now the main opposition party in the assembly.
The ZPM swept all the seats of the first Lunglei Municipal Council elections held in April. The party polled 49.31 percent votes while the ruling MNF failed to win a single seat and managed to secure only 29.4 percent.
As for the Congress, it doesn’t seem to have put its house in order by preparing itself for a post-Lal Thanhawla era despite getting four years. Recently, Congress party treasurer Zodintluanga Ralte, a former minister, resigned from the post unhappy with the party state president Lalsawta. A senior leader resigning from his party post shows that everything isn’t well within the grand old party.
Minorities BJP’s Best Bet, But
Out of the 40 assembly seats in Mizoram, there are 14 where the ethnic minorities – Chakmas, Brus, Hmars, and Lais – are either dominant or are a crucial factor. In the last assembly elections, the BJP’s vote share was in double digits in 10 seats – and in all these, the ethnic minorities were a crucial factor.
Also these ethnic minorities generally feel ignored in the Mizo-dominated state. In many of these 14 seats, ZPM isn’t that strong, providing an opportunity for the saffron party to expand in these areas.
BJP believes that being the ruling party at the Centre it has an advantage among the ethnic minorities. The only seat the party won last time was the Tuichawng assembly constituency, a Chakma-dominated seat.
However, BJP’s base is not that strong in the Bru, Hmar and Lai dominated seats. In the Mara dominated areas, the BJP has consolidated its position as was seen in the recently held Village Council polls of the Mara Autonomous District Council (MADC) where it performed well. It has to be mentioned that two assembly seats – Siaha and Palak – fall under the MADC.
In the recently held elections of the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC), BJP, which expected to consolidate its strength in the area, failed to win the council. Out of 20 seats of the council, it won only 5 while the MNF emerged as the single largest party by winning 10 seats.
The lone assembly seat falling under the CADC is the Tuichawng assembly seat, which was BJP’s sole win in Mizoram in 2018. Taking the responsibility of the defeat, the party’s MLA Buddha Dhan Chakma has resigned from the seat. The Chakmas, who practise Buddhism, are the largest religious minority in the state and account for 8 percent of the state population.
BJP is hoping that the Mizoram elections will culminate in a hung assembly so that it can emerge as the kingmaker. For that to happen, BJP has to win some of these seats where ethnic minorities are a key influence. It banked on this method in the last elections and this time too seems to be a repeat of the same formula.
But the failure to win a majority in the CADC is undoubtedly a big setback for the saffron party. It would suggest that even winnable seats are slipping out of the BJP’s grip. This result has the potential to negatively impact BJP in the ethnic minority seats, including the Chakma-dominated West Tuipui seat and the Thorang seat, which has a 30 percent Chakma population.
But there are still six months to go. If BJP can redraw its strategies and tackle the weakness that it is acutely feeling presently, it could still emerge as an important player in the upcoming state elections, especially in the event of a hung assembly.
Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator. Twitter: @SagarneelSinha. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.