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Dissecting the people's mandate in Mizoram

In this, the last of a five-part series analysing the recent Assembly election results in five States, Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, examine the outcome in Mizoram. The field work for the post-election survey was coordinated by R.K. Satpathy.

THE RETURN of the Mizo National Front to power in Mizoram has local significance as well as a larger significance. These results were announced two days ahead of those from Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and in the midst of the bustle, their significance was somewhat lost. In retrospect, there is one commonality to these very different verdicts in different parts of the country involving different sets of actors and altogether different issues: the fate of the Congress.

If in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh the Congress was fighting to defend its governments, in Mizoram it was fighting to dislodge the ruling MNF. In the Hindi heartland, the Congress failed to convert the reasonably good performance of its governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh into electoral victories; in Mizoram it failed to take advantage of the existing dissatisfaction with the incumbent government. Here again it was a case of missed opportunities, poor management and lack of a clear strategy.

The Congress may have missed a precious opportunity here. The historic Mizo accord of 1987 paved the way for open and democratic politics in Mizoram and brought the MNF, the party led by Laldenga, to power. But Laldenga was soon outsmarted in electoral and political games by the master manipulator, Lalthanhawla, who ensured a return of the Congress within two years of the signing of the accord. The Congress enjoyed two terms thereafter but its leader, Lalthanhawla, became mired in a series of controversies and charges of corruption. The MNF entered into a partial electoral understanding with the Mizo People's Conference (MZPC) led by Brig. T. Sailo and ensured a comprehensive defeat of the Congress. The MNF secured a majority of its own by contesting only 28 of the 40 seats. The MPC also reaped the benefits of this alliance by securing 12 seats.

This time the line-up was different. The MNF-MZPC alliance had fallen through. The MZPC aligned with a new force, the Zoram Nationalist Party, with some support from the urban, educated classes. The MNF contested all but two of the seats this time. The Congress decided to go to the polls once again under the controversial leadership of Lalthanhawla, who contested from two seats, and refused to enter into any alliance with smaller forces. In retrospect, it is clear that both these decisions cost the Congress this round of elections. Overall, the Congress improved its tally by wining 12 seats, double its tally last time. But that was hardly a consolation, when its leader Lalthanhawla lost in a direct contest to Zoramthanga, the sitting Chief Minister of the MNF, in Chempei by a margin of 265 votes.

The MNF retained exactly the same number of seats as it won last time, though it improved its vote share as a consequence of contesting more seats. The partial alliance between the MZPC and the ZNP — both contested 27 seats each — did not produce much benefit in terms of seats although the two parties between them secured more than 30 per cent of the votes. Clearly their friendly fights cost them all the 18 seats where candidates of both the parties were in the fray. In all these seats, the combined votes of the two parties are more than the victory margin of the winning party. Had a proper seat-sharing arrangement taken place between the two parties, the election result would have been very different. The BJP tried to enter the fray this time and failed miserably.

The post-election survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, one of the few election surveys ever done in the State, reveals the patterns behind this verdict. On balance the electorate was moderately satisfied with the performance of the MNF government, about the same level as that of the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Governments. Clearly, it is not impossible to dislodge Governments with this level of satisfaction.

The clue to why the Congress did not succeed in this is seen in the party-wise break-up of satisfaction ratings. Unlike in other States, there is simply no relationship here between the incumbent government's rating and the voting pattern. Votes were cast on personal and other considerations, rather than performance. The survey reveals that for 51 per cent of the voters it was the candidate that mattered, while 37 per cent voted on the basis of party. Perhaps, the voters felt they did not have much to choose from in terms of the performance record.

The Congress failed to use the potential unhappiness with the MNF Government to its advantage because the voters did not have good memories of the Congress regime. Asked to compare the MNF Government and the previous Congress Government, 44 per cent of the voters rated the Zoramthanga Government to be better than the Lalthanhawla regime. Only 25 per cent felt that the Lalthanhawla Government was better.

Though the people rated the MNF Government high, it was also perceived to be corrupt by 59 per cent of the voters. On the same count, the MNF Government was thought to be less corrupt than the previous Congress one.

While 30 per cent of the voters said the Lalthanhawla Government was more corrupt than the MNF dispensation, only 20 per cent found the sitting government to be more corrupt. Interestingly, 50 per cent of the voters considered both governments to be equally corrupt. Clearly, the Congress could not have made corruption an issue.

In terms of individual leaders, the Chief Minister, Zoramthanga, and the ZNP leader, Lalduhawma, seemed to be equally popular choices for the post of Chief Minister. The survey reveals that each leader was the choice of 24 per cent of the voters. The former Chief Minister and Congress leader, Lalthanhawla, was the next choice. It goes to show how poor the Congress' choice of its leader was.

The former Chief Minister, Brig T. Sailo of the MZPC, was the choice of only 2 per cent of the voters for the chief ministerial post, but 27 per cent considered him to be the State's greatest leader. In the survey, 24 per cent of the voters felt that another former Chief Minister, the late Laldenga, was the State's greatest leader.

Some clear patterns can be seen in this verdict. In India's most urbanised State and its second most literate, the MNF lost its popularity among the urban and educated voters. But it made up by improving its standing among its non-traditional voters in the rural areas and among the less educated. Fortunately, there is no sharp ethnic polarisation in the voting, unlike in many other places in the northeastern region. Perhaps that is due to the dominance of the Mizo tribe, which accounts for nearly 85 per cent of this wholly tribal State. But it is worth noting that the various minority tribes have not voted for a single party. That is certainly a positive signal for this small and now peaceful State in the northeast.

The survey findings also threw up some interesting facts about opinions on the Mizo accord and about how the State's people identify themselves. The Mizo accord received high ratings with 44 per cent of the voters approving it. Only 19 per cent of the voters disapproved of it while 37 per cent expressed no opinion on it. As regards the perceptions of identity, 33 per cent of the voters identified themselves as only Indian, while 32 per cent identified themselves as only Mizo. Also, 27 per cent considered themselves to be both Indian and Mizo.

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