After the drubbing in the Assembly elections to four heartland States, a victory in the small northeastern State of Mizoram could not have been of much consolation for the Congress. But Mizoram needs the Congress more than the Congress needs Mizoram. For a State divided by tribal identities, where development is organically linked to Central funds, the Congress is in some ways both unifier and saviour. With their experience of long years of insurgency and counter-insurgency operations, the people of Mizoram often turn to the Congress for political stability and firm governance. Regional parties such as the Mizo National Front, which contested this election as a part of the Mizoram Democratic Alliance, have a large support base, but sometimes the dominant electoral issue goes beyond local affinities. With the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in power at the Centre, Congress Chief Minister Lalthanhawla must have found it easier to harness Central funds to development works. A victory for the Congress fits into a pattern. The Mizoram voter tends to give a party two terms in power. The Congress won in 1989 and 1993, while the MNF won the next two elections, in 1998 and 2003. And now, the Congress, which won big in 2008, has obtained another term in office. Interestingly, the Congress wins have coincided with the periods the party was in power at the Centre. In 1998 and 2003, when governments led by the BJP were in power at the Centre, the MNF was the victor.
Many of the larger issues that Mizoram faces are common to other northeastern States. The long-pending demands for reworking of Centre-State relations and for greater autonomy for the States will not go away no matter which party is in power. While the Congress is unwilling to make concessions on these issues, the regional parties have little or no clout at the Centre to push for major changes. Local Congress chieftains in the northeastern States are happy with the relative autonomy they are granted by the party high command, and will not press hard on subjects where the Centre is unlikely to give in. The North-East Regional Political Front, formed recently by ten regional parties including the MNF, to protect the “territorial, cultural, social, political and economic rights” of the people of the region, could perhaps bring more pressure to bear on the Centre on such issues. Poor transport and communication facilities have so far kept this hill State economically backward. Given the relative peace and quiet in Mizoram after the end of the insurgency, Mizos can now look forward to greater investment in infrastructure to boost to the economy.