Mizoram assembly elections: The importance of civil society groups in Mizoram is such that a sizeable number of the state population are members of one group or another
Civil society groups in Mizoram are in focus ahead of the assembly elections in the north-east state on Wednesday. All the major political parties including the BJP and the Congress want a favourable opinion about them from the civil society groups as it can have a major impact on the outcome of the fiercely contested elections.
Earlier this month, the groups backed by the church launched a massive protest against the Election Commission after some officials decided to allow members of the Bru tribe, who live as refugees in Tripura, to vote from their camps in the neighbouring state. A Mizoram bureaucrat was also transferred after he objected to that move. This triggered protests as the civil society groups suspected that letting the refugees vote from another state might polarise the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week met with the groups in state capital Aizawl. His party, BJP, is looking to woo Christian voters in the state.
The importance of civil society groups in Mizoram is such that a sizeable number of the state population are members of one group or another. For example, the young Mizo Association or the YMA has 41 per cent of Mizoram's over seven lakh voters as members.
"There should not be any politics of division. It is fine if they want to develop the state; we also want that, and as a remote border area we support that. But not at the cost of dividing people," said Vanlalruata, president of the central Young Mizo Association.
PM Modi did speak about development at his rally in Lunglei. "Transformation trough transportation is our agenda. We are converting 1,000 km rail link from broad gauge, 15 new links are coming up. All north-east capital will be linked to broad gauge network," PM Modi had said.
"When Congress was in power in the centre, only 100 km railway line were laid in the north-east and now this work has speed up three times," PM Modi had said.
For years in Mizoram, the Church and the civil society have been the pillars behind the popular election watchdog, called the Mizoram Peoples Forum or MPF.
"We have awareness campaigns in the church, seminars for politicians and also interactions with church members to keep the elections free and fair," said MPF general secretary reverend R Lalbiakmawia.
Mizoram civil society groups say a majority of the issues in public life revolves around the church, and politics is no exception. What the church thinks influences almost every aspect of the Mizo society, and that also involves elections, they say.
"Every Mizo is a member of a church in their locality. They follow the teaching and guidance of the church. But you cannot call the church a pressure group. It can only make a request. It's upon the people to take or reject it," said Lalfakzuala, a church elder at Dwarpui Presbyterian Church in Aizawl.
The Mizo National Front has said it will enforce prohibition in the north-east state if it won the elections.
The Congress has been in power in Mizoram since 2008 and is eyeing a third consecutive term. In the 2013 elections, the Congress won 34 seats, while the MNF got five and the Mizoram People's Conference one in the 40-member assembly.