Zoramthanga takes oath, BJP leaders absent
Mizo National Front chief Zoramthanga took oath as Mizoram chief minister for the third time on Saturday but conspicuous by their absence were senior BJP leaders at the hourlong function at the Raj Bhavan in Aizawl.
More so, because the MNF is still part of the North East Democratic Alliance (Neda), a non-Congress forum constituted by the BJP in 2016.
Neda convener Himanta Biswa Sarma after the MNF’s victory in the November 28 Assembly polls and Zoramthanga after the swearing-in ceremony said the MNF is part of the forum.
The MNF members and government officials present at the ceremony said only one chief minister from the Northeast, Meghalaya’s Conrad K. Sangma, attended, along with AGP leaders Atul Bora and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Sarma and state BJP president J.V. Hluna were not present.
This is in sharp contrast to the presence of several senior BJP leaders and chief ministers at the swearing-in ceremony of the Neiphiu Rio-led NDPP coalition government in Nagaland and the NPP government, led by Conrad, in Meghalaya. Both NDPP and NPP are Neda constituents and both governments have BJP ministers. The BJP has four chief ministers — in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura.
The absence of BJP leaders or most chief ministers is being attributed to the MNF’s apparent attempts to distance itself from the BJP and Neda in the run-up to the Assembly elections, and also after winning the polls. Zoramthanga has also “not” entertained the request for inclusion of the lone BJP legislator B.D. Chakma in the ministry.
Zoramthanga, a former rebel leader who led the MNF government from 1998 to 2008 before being unseated by the Congress, had said on Thursday that he will be inviting chief ministers from the region according to their official designations and not as part of Neda constituents because the “Neda does not sound much attractive”.
The BJP, he said, “is looked upon as anti-Christian in Mizoram. The Church is very powerful. We have lost quite a lot of votes because of the accusation that MNF has a very good connection with the BJP. That is the greatest salvo they (Opposition) fired at us.”
Hluna said on Saturday night that he returned from Delhi in the evening but the party’s lone MLA (B.D. Chakma) and a council chief (S. Chakma) attended. “Had sent in my congratulatory message to the chief minister and also asked two party general secretaries to attend but they said they did not receive invites. Also heard no BJP chief minister or senior leaders attended,” he said, adding that a BJP team is meeting Zoramthanga on Sunday.
Sarma, on the other hand, said he was in Dibrugarh to attend the wedding of a close aide.
The other highlight of the swearing-in ceremony was a prayer service and the singing of Hallelujah, which most said was a “kind of” message to the BJP which is for a uniform civil code and Ram temple that “India is a diverse nation, where people of different faiths live and have their own distinct way of life”.
Apart from Zoramthanga and Tawnluia, who will be the deputy chief minister, the council of ministers has four more cabinet ministers, Dr R. Lalthangliana, Lalchamliana, R. Lalzirliana and C. Lalrinsanga, and six ministers of state, K. Lalrinliana, Lalchhandama Ralte, Lalruatkima, Dr K. Beichhua, T.J. Lalnuntluanga and Robert Romawia Royte.
Former Congress legislators Lalzirliana and Lalrinliana Sailo became cabinet minister and Speaker respectively. The deputy Speaker’s post went to Lalrinawma.
Tawnluia, a contemporary of Zoramthanga and a MNF veteran, R. Lalthangliana, Lalchamliana and C. Lalrinsanga, were also part of the earlier Zoramthanga-led governments. Lalzirliana, a former Congress leader, also has ministerial experience but the remaining six are first-time ministers.
Zoramthanga has distributed the portfolios.