The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A surprise in the first result of the series of assembly elections in five states can be unnerving for all parties. Mizoram was not a battleground for the two national parties fighting it out in the other four states. Still, if it is the morning that shows the day — and Mizoram is, as it happens, the easternmost of the states seeking new assemblies — both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have reason to be disappointed. The Congress’s disappointment, if not keener than the BJP’s, is perhaps based on greater substance. Having been overthrown by the combined Mizo National Front and the Mizoram People’s Conference after ten years of rule in 1998, the Congress had great hopes of a return. Its old base, an expected resentment towards an incumbent government, the fact that the MPF and the MPC are no longer together — the MPC having tied up with the Zoram Nationalist Party — may have given it reason to hope. But the MNF beat them all, coming back under the leadership of the chief minister, Mr Zoramthanga, with 21 of the 40 seats, the same number it had in the former house. There is some poor consolation for the Congress: it has won 12 seats, to some extent at the expense of the MPC and the ZNP. This is more than what it had managed in the 1998 elections, when it had got six. The former Congress chief minister and present state Congress chief, Mr Lalthanhawla, took to the routine ungraciousness of political defeat by attributing the MNF victory to money. It is rather ironical that Mr Lalthanhawla himself has been a bit of an inconvenience to his party, since he is the object of a corruption investigation.

As in 1998, the other hopeful, the BJP, has failed to get a single seat. The party had gone out of its way to neutralize its pro-Hindu image in a state where 95 per cent of its total of 900,000 inhabitants is Christian. But it is likely that the central concerns of the state’s people are somewhat different. A state that has been recognized by the Centre as the most literate and the most peaceful would possibly have development on its mind. The MNF, after its militant past, blood-soaked factional battles and struggle for statehood, seems to have become the most successful campaigner for development. Its election promises comprised an overhaul of the school education system, increased power generation and schemes for growth in revenue generation for the people. Even the Bru refugee issue did not dent the appeal of these promises. Although Mizoram was never crucial to the Congress’s and the BJP’s calculations, to be reduced to nobodies in the hill state could not have been very welcome.

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