Friday, September 22, 2023
North East

Newsmaker Zoramthanga – On the move and going gently!

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga
File Pix

Our Spl Correspondent
NEW DELHI, JUNE 9: Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga has always tried to play bigger roles.
During the Vajpayee regime, he offered to negotiate with Naga rebel leaders saying “I know them as we used to meet during our days in jungles and also in some overseas countries.” As the Manipur crisis evolved and people raised ‘Greater Mizoram’ demand, he played pragmatic and sensible cards saying such a thing could not be ‘imposed’.
Now, all of us can look forward to a short-lived anarchy in Manipur. The neighbouring State of Mizoram may feel the heat more but there is need for a cautious approach in Nagaland as well. This is a moment of deep anguish and frustration as the entire Northeast is virtually trembling with worry. In politics, they say, memories are short-lived too. A new reputation most often drives out an old one. Coming to the politics of Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga, one could be convinced about the twists in his political graph and also personal reputation. For a long time he was taken as a second-in-command for the Mizo National Front (MNF) under Laldenga.
Had Laldenga lived long, Zoramthanga might have still been No. 2, a ‘shadow’ to the towering personality.
But leadership came to him with Laldenga’s untimely death on July 7, 1990. Like his friend and leader, Zoramthanga too has been a pragmatic politician and today as crises grip Manipur and Zo and Kuki communities have been rendered homeless, the youth wing of MNF had crowned Zoramthanga as the “fatherly figure of the Mizos around the globe”.
“Chief Minister Zoramthanga is a fatherly figure to all ethnic Mizos around the globe as his Government has not only embraced them but also given them shelter and food”, the young wing of MNF member said in a statement in Aizawl.
Some of this ‘claim’ vis-à-vis fatherly-figure title is certainly a well-deserved accolade. Zoramthanga has stood by the people ~ his Mizoram voters ~ as well as thousands of ‘kindred brothers’ from Myanmar taking shelter since 2021 and now hundreds from neighbouring Manipur. There is a fund crunch for the internally displaced people as well as Myanmar ‘refugees’, yet Chief Minister Zoramthanga has stuck to his people. And his pragmatic politics vis-à-vis the BJP leadership is ~ he has been doing so without going hyper and doing anything odd that would have embarrassed the dispensation in Delhi.
The number of extra mouths is quite a few, according to Mizoram Government officials.
Mizoram today is providing shelter to over 40,000 ‘Myanmar refugees’ who fled the neighboring country for fear of being persecuted by the military junta. There are 772 refugees from Bangladesh (also ethnic tribals) who have been allegedly bearing the brunt of Bangladesh forces’ crackdown and almost 9,000 IDPs from Manipur in view of alleged ethnic cleansing by the majority Meitei community.
Zoramthanga and his people in the State have somehow not let down the ‘refugees’. Officially no such recognition has been given yet as under the law. Only the Central Government can give such status to people from other countries.
If Zoramthanga is today getting the ‘fatherly figure’ crown, it is little more than sheer oincidence.
When his party lost the 2008 Assembly elections to Congress, the hard reality was ~ Zoramthanga had lost from both the seats he had contested ~ North and South Champhai constituencies. Critics wrote his political obituary but he fought back to return to power in 2018 in a highly polarised atmosphere over Reang’s voting rights.
Even a year back, things looked awkward and complex for him. There were political challenges and ZPM was cornering him almost on a daily basis.
Moreover, an unusual thing was reported from a congregation at Zarkawt Presbyterian Church in
Mizoram capital Aizawl. A self-proclaimed ‘local prophet’ named Lal Rinawma and also known as Awmtea accosted Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga during the last part of Sunday night prayer session and gave the Chief Minister a traditional ‘puandum’ triggering controversy across the State.
Puandum – black shawls are symbols of mourning in the family. Mizos are obviously Christians ~ mostly Presbyterians ~ but the tribal community is vulnerable to superstition and certain beliefs like ‘local prophets’, etc.
However, such ‘omen’ has been overcome, so to say.
The crisis in Manipur has come at a time when Mizoram is getting ready for the next round of Assembly elections by November this year along with MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.
“We should not be talking like that but the political reality is that the crisis has galvanized the people behind Zoramthanga and the ruling MNF party. We are set to win the polls hands down”, says an enthusiastic party worker.
As it is Zoramthanga’s electoral journey in 2023 looks easier as the arch rival Congress is no longer a fighting outfit in the State, especially after veteran Lalthanhawla has taken retirement.
The BJP hardly exists to fight the MNF.
However, it will not be wise to take the polls for granted. The newly floated Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) has emerged as a formidable force. In 2018 polls, this party had polled 22.9% of votes and could win 8 seats.
In this year’s local body polls, the ZPM has won all 11 wards in the newly formed Lunglei Municipal Council.
It will be interesting to see how things unfold.
The Zoram People’s Movement is largely seen as a party which can cater to voters’ interest who favour a new approach, which is different from the Congress or from Zoramthanga-led MNF.
At 78, Zoramthanga is the oldest Chief Minister in office in India today and paradoxically the MNF has not nurtured any second generation leader and this could prove a costly mistake in years to come.