Some solace

The landslide victory in the north-eastern state of Mizoram is cold comfort for the Congress which has suffered massive and demoralising defeats in elections to state Assemblies in other parts of the country. The party, under chief minister Lal Thanhawla, has won 32 seats in the 40-member Assembly and the opposition alliance, led by the Mizo National Front, did not make even a credible impact, winning only five seats. The Congress cannot claim any pride from the win because the political signals from the north-eastern states hardly matter elsewhere in the country. The small Assemblies and the few Lok Sabha seats do not influence the national scene. The politics of what is wrongly called  the national mainstream also does not often appeal much to the north-east. The issues that concern the voters there are different most times.

Because of the geographical, historical and economic situations in these states, the voters give much importance to peace and stability. Mizoram, like other states, has been wracked by insurgency in the past. Localised politics based on tribal loyalties and ground level issues play a role but the biggest ground level issue is safety and security. This may be the reason why Mizoram has, in elections in the last 25 years, has only elected the ruling party at the Centre or parties that supported the Central government at the time of the elections. The state has no industrial or economic base and has to depend on central funds not just for development but also for normal government activities. So a premium is placed on good Centre-state relations. The Mizoram voters have also tended to give two successive terms to parties in power. The MNF had won in 1998 and 2003 and the Congress, which won in 2008, has got another mandate now.

Lal Thanhawla has claimed that his mandate is a result of good governance, tough steps against  insurgency and a new land use policy which helped farmers to secure land titles and improve cultivation. The policy is a populist one and depended much on central funds. Mizoram, as other states in the region, has seen no industrial development. Geographical isolation, lack of infrastructure and failure to implement promises to link the region economically with south-east Asia and Bangladesh have perpetuated backwardness. The politics  of the region can be better aligned with that of the rest of the country if there is greater economic integration. Successive governments at the Centre have failed in this.

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