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COMFORT ZONE

The north has deserted it, but the Northeast still loves the Congress. The party’s resounding victory in Mizoram may be small consolation in a season of big defeats. But it shows why the Northeast votes the way it does. That, of course, has much to do with its history of insurgency and its demographic patterns. Electoral politics in the Northeast has been dominated by two factors — peace and stability. Having suffered for decades from bloody ethnic insurgencies, the people in the region value peace and political stability above other things. Mizoram, like Nagaland, Assam or Manipur, has been the theatre of one of the longest-running insurgencies. Whichever party guarantees the best chance for peace, therefore, has an edge over others. The Mizos have once again seen the Congress as the best bet for a peaceful life. At other times, they reposed their faith in the Mizo National Front, the Congress’s main rival in the state. Electoral politics in the region also follows another interesting pattern. The people have often voted to power the party that rules in New Delhi. Thus, in Mizoram, the two elections that the MNF won — in 1998 and 2003 — were at the time of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rule at the Centre. The voters in the region seem to think that it is in the best interest of the state to have good equations with the Union government on which it has to depend almost entirely for development funds and aid.

However, New Delhi has not always lived up to the expectations that the region has had from it. The Centre has been more concerned with keeping peace in the region than with its economic uplift. Even 66 years after Independence, most of the region is without an industrialized economy. There are hardly any comprehensive plans to exploit the region’s potential for trade with countries on its border. Yet, New Delhi’s ‘Look East’ policy should have opened up new possibilities for the Northeast. It is not enough to open a few places for border trade with countries such as China and Myanmar. What the region needs is a massive overhaul of its infrastructure. Modern roads, bridges and a regular supply of power can change the face of its economy. The region’s topography demands that the Centre continues to fund the projects there liberally. But the region needs much more than Central funds. It needs to develop an economy of its own.