On 20 April, the State Election Commission of Mizoram declared the results of the Village Councils (similar to village panchayats) falling under the Mara Autonomous District Council where the Bharatiya Janata Party( BJP) won the highest number of Village Councils. It secured a majority in 41 VCs out of 99.
The Mizo National Front, the ruling party of the state, won 25 VCs while the two other Opposition parties Congress and Zoram People’s Movement were able to achieve a majority in 8 and 2 VCs respectively. In one VC, Independent candidates gained a majority while in 22 VCs, no party was able to secure a majority.
What is the Mara District Autonomous Council?
The state has three autonomous district councils for its ethnic minorities and Mara District Autonomous Council is one of those. This council is constituted of the Mara tribe, an ethnic minority. This tribe practices Christianity. MADC is a 28-member council — out of which three are nominated.
The other councils are the Chakma Autonomous District Council and the Lai Autonomous District Council. CADC council is for the Chakmas, an ethnic tribe practicing Buddhism, and LADC is for the Lai community.
Why Is Mizoram Important for BJP?
Nationally, the saffron party, which is being categorised as an “anti-Christian party”, is trying to gain footprints in the Christian-dominated states of the Northeast to boost its image as a pluralist party. In Christian-majority Nagaland, the party has been able to penetrate the state, although with the help of its ally Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, the state’s ruling party.
In Manipur, the party won seven Christian-dominated seats out of 20 in the 2022 assembly elections. However, in Meghalaya, another Christian-majority state, the saffron party, which wasn’t able to expand its base as expected in the recently held elections early this year, has been able to be a part of the Conrad Sangma-led National People’s Party government.
In the last state elections of Mizoram, the saffron party was able to open its account in the state for the first time but the seat — Tuichawng — that the party won was a religious minority Buddhist-dominated seat. The lone saffron-winning candidate was Buddha Dhan Chakma, a well-known leader of the area who earlier was in Congress and had held the post of Chief Executive Member of CADC and was also a minister in the Lal Thanhawla-led Congress government.
The saffron party knows that gaining a foothold in Christian-majority Mizoram is very important, personally for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has now set his eyes on global politics. The more the success of the BJP in the Christian areas, the more will be the rise of Modi’s image on the global stage as a statesman. But despite all its attempts, the party failed to win any Christian-dominated seat in the last elections as it wasn’t seen as a credible one by the voters.
The ruling MNF, which is a constituent of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance, an umbrella of non-Congress regional parties of the northeast, also hesitates to share power with the party at the state. As a result, the lone saffron legislator isn’t a part of the Chief Minister Zoramthanga-led government.
Signs of BJP’s Consolidation in Certain Pockets of Mizoram
In the Mizo-dominated state, the saffron party has been targeting particularly the ethnic minorities of the state — Chakmas, Maras, Lais, Brus, and Hmars. These non-Mizo communities have their own issues and feel that they are being neglected in the state. In the last assembly elections, the saffron party got votes in double digits in 10 seats — and these seats are dominated by ethnic minorities.
The seats are Tuichawng, West Tuipui, Dampa, Hachhek, Mamit, Palak, Siaha, Thorang, Tuivawl, and Serlui. Barring Tuichawng, the party failed to see victory in the other seats. Not only this, the party fared badly in Kolasib, Lawngtlai East, and Lawngtlai West — the three other seats where ethnic minorities are a crucial factor. All these 13 seats mentioned above are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.
Although the party’s gamble on ethnic minorities didn’t yield the desired results in the last state elections, the MADC Village Council results, however, indicate that there seems to be a gradual change. Though a section is attributing this success to the current MLA of Siaha K Beichhua, who was removed from Zoramthanga’s cabinet and expelled from MNF for toppling the MNF-Congress coalition in MADC and bringing BJP to power in the council.
Currently, his status in the assembly is of an independent MLA. It is also a fact that the BJP has been emerging as a force in MADC even before the party formed the council along with three rebel MNF councillors with the tacit support provided by Beichhua.
This is evident from last year’s MADC general polls where the BJP emerged as the largest party by securing 12 out of 25 — just one seat short of a majority. Another reason for BJP gaining a foothold here in this region is the merger of the Maraland Democratic Front, a party which had a base in this area, to the party in 2017.
Better Prospects for BJP Than in 2018?
These MADC VC polls confirm the support of the saffron party in certain pockets of Mizoram. With Maras being Christians, the saffron party is likely to portray this to blunt the criticism that it is an “anti-Christian” party ahead of the assembly polls. This result gives rise to BJP’s prospects in the upcoming assembly polls in seats like Siaha and Palak coming under MADC. Beichhua is expected to join the saffron party ahead of the assembly polls.
With Maras slowly consolidating towards it, the party is expecting that this would also help it to increase its support among other ethnic minorities. On 9 May, the election for the CADC is going to be held — and the saffron party is expecting that this time it is going to win a majority in the Chakma-dominated council. Tuichawng, the lone BJP seat, is the only seat that falls under CADC but if the party can secure a majority in the council, it is likely to have an impact on the Chakma-majority seat of West Tuipui and also the Thorang seat, where 30 percent of the population are Chakmas. Both the seats were won by Congress last time.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator and tweets @SagarneelSinha.This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)