December 16th marks the one-year anniversary of Rahul Gandhi’s presidency of the Indian National Congress (INC). And, what a year it has been! From being called “Pappu” every other day, to becoming what many term as a “serious threat to Modi in 2019”, Gandhi has come a long way.
On December 11th, results were declared for Legislative assembly elections of five states, and Congress came out as the obvious show-stealer. It managed to snatch 3 out of 3 states from BJP’s grip. However, it also lost a state it had been ruling over from the past 10 years- Mizoram. So, the obvious question creeps up- why?
Why did the newly-established “Congress charm” fail to work in Mizoram? Let’s find out.
State Assembly Election Results, 2018
When the whole nation was patiently waiting in anticipation for the state legislative results, Mizoram was the first one to present a clear picture. By late afternoon, it had become obvious that the hill state had once again shown a decade-old incumbent government the “exit” door.
Mizo National Front finished with a clear majority of 26 seats, Congress just 5. Moreover, for the first time since the state’s establishment, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to open its account, grabbing one seat.
The final results:
Total Seats: 40
|Party||Seats||Number of Votes||Vote Share|
|Mizo National Front (MNF)||26||2,37,305||37.60%|
|Indian National Congress (INC)||5||1,90,412||30.20%|
|Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)||1||50,744||8.00%|
The political discourse of Mizoram
In 2008, INC came to power in Mizoram with a clear majority of 32 out of 40 seats, the Mizo National Front (MNF) limited at just 3. In 2013, not only did Congress return to power but with an increased number of 34 out of 40 seats. The MNF trailed at the second position with 5 seats.
Since 1989, the state of Mizoram has been in the practice of voting out an incumbent government after two terms. Congress, with its loud victory in the past two assembly elections, with Lal Thanhawla as the CM, was seeking a third term. So, Congress not coming to power again was not exactly an “out of the blue” scenario. However, from 34 seats, the party fell right down to just 5 in the legislative assembly, coincidentally the same number as that of MNF in 2014.
The question is, can the entire blame of loss be put on a wave of anti-incumbency? Certainly not.
Congress’s walk-down in Mizoram
For anyone following Mizoram’s political climate, the de-throning of Congress comes as little or no surprise. Aside from the rising wave of anti-incumbency, the Lal Thanhawla’s government had multiple issues to tackle. Its inability to do so only became clearer with time.
Internal Feuds and cronyism
The internal feuds of Congress in Mizoram gradually weakened the party’s hold in the state. In September this year, R Lalzirliana, party’s Vice-President, handed in his resignation. He was the state Home Minister, also handling other key segments like power and electricity, rural development. Soon after, Lalzirliana left the party to join MNF.
Barely two months later, the Assembly Speaker Hiphei walked out of the party. Hiphei joined BJP in November, with only a month left for the legislative assembly elections. Adding to this internal unrest, several party members were reportedly unhappy with how Thanhawla’s personal circle was enjoying increased influence in the decision-making.
The weakened party structure, mixed with unsettlement over cronyism proved to be nothing but nailing its own coffin for the INC.
Dissatisfaction with government’s work
The literacy rate of Mizoram is the second-highest in India. However, the infrastructural status of the state is still not up to the mark. Congress initiatives like the New Land Use Policy or New Economic Development Policy have proven to be with significant cracks, resulting in dissatisfaction amongst the people.
Moreover, the party failed to smartly address the situation of alcohol use and prohibition in the state, as is clear by the Mizoram Liquor Prohibition and Control Act. It is these very issues that other political parties didn’t fail to cash in on.
The role of opposition
Rivals of Congress in the state have been quick to pick up the party’s faulty pieces, using it to their own advantage. One prime example is that of Mizoram Liquor Prohibition and Control Act, 2014. The Act came into effect in the year 2015, under Congress’s rule, allowing for sales of alcohol in the state. During the campaigning and even before, the rivals used this card, strongly asserting their stance against alcohol abuse, and making promises to work on the problem.
In this term’s elections, the independent candidates together won more seats than the ruling Congress party. The credit can easily be given to the rise of a new strong alliance- the Zoram People’s Movement. Two regional parties, namely the Zoram National Party, and Mizoram People’s Conference came together, hoping to bring in a new kind of politics in the state. And, the results were not disappointing.
The independent candidates from the alliance managed to grab eight seats, while Congress had to make do with five.
Not only did Congress lose in the state by a big margin, but Chief Minister Thanhawla also lost in both the constituencies he contested from. The unpopularity of INC was so strong that the five-time elected CM was shown the way out of the legislative assembly.
Mizoram was essentially the last stronghold of Congress in the North-East. So, while it might have made a big “comeback” in Central and North India, this defeat is certainly worrisome. Had the party still not come back to power, but instead, had succumbed to a larger seat share in the assembly, things would have looked better.
Indian National Congress is ambitiously preparing for a grand return in the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It is of key importance then, that the party works harder to improve its tarnished image from the North-Eastern states.
Map of Mizoram Vidhan Sabha Constituencies