The Quint interviews Mizoram CM Lal Thanhawla.

‘BJP Doesn’t Have a Chance in Mizoram’: CM Lal Thanhawla

Mizoram, which has been under a Congress leadership since 2008, is being seen as the last bastion for the party in the North East after it lost big in Assam and Meghalaya.

The incumbent chief minister, Lal Thanhawla, however, is now fighting for a record consecutive third term in the state. Having served as CM five times already (with the first being in 1984), he already holds the record for having the maximum number of terms.

The Quint caught up with him at his residence as a part of its election coverage, when he opened up about the BJP's chances of opening an account in Mizoram, the possibility of horse-trading, the Opposition’s attack on lifting the alcohol ban, and, of course, battling it out at the age of 80.

The BJP is trying to make a foray into Mizoram for the first time. What do you have to say about their chances? Do you think they have a chance?

If they are trying to open their account, I’m nobody to say no to them because every political party has the right to contest wherever they like. I don’t think they have a chance, unfortunately.

You’ve said in the past that the BJP and the Mizo National Front (MNF - the principal opposition to the Congress in Mizoram) are holding back-channel talks. Why do you think so?

There’s the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) that has been initiated by the BJP and the MNF is a member of NEDA. So of course, there is an alliance. Nobody can deny that.

As a counter to that, the MNF and BJP are saying there was Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) election in the state where theBJP and Congress joined hands...

Never. Never. This is the first time that the BJP is making an appearance.

Is the Congress wary of the chance that the BJP may do something like what they did in Goa and in Meghalaya - what we call ‘horse trading’ in colloquial parlance - to form a government... Are you scared of that happening in Mizoram?

As far as the Congress is concerned, I’m not worried. But from other parties if there are purchasable commodities, then I cannot say.

The Opposition has made prohibition a big issue in this election. They’re saying Mizoram should go back to being a place where there was ban on alcohol. Your party has brought about this change. Do you stick to your stance?

It was my government that brought total prohibition on the behest of the churches. But it was a miserable failure. Spurious liquor was available everywhere. Anti-social elements were making their presence felt.  They used to mix all kinds of poisonous things (in the liquor) and many people died because of that. Some people wanted to sell liquor in a controlled manner and that is why we thought that we should bring back the sale of liquor. But not openly. In a controlled manner.

Are you scared that this might alienate the Church?

This is not about the Church. It is a social matter. At the behest of the Church, we tried prohibition but it was a failure. The government needs to cater to all sections of society. The drinking classes are one of the sections of the society.

Coming to the issue of the Brus. We saw a huge debacle with the CEO of the EC being removed because the Mizo community thought that he was advocating bringing back the Brus to vote in Mizoram. They were also angry because a senior IAS official - the home secretary - was removed by him. What is the Congress party’s stance on this?

The Congress party’s stance is the stance of the Mizo people. I was chief minister when they (the Brus) left. There was no need for them to leave. And those who weren’t willing to leave were coerced into leaving as well. In spite of a big majority leaving, a good number couldn’t leave. And they don’t face any discrimination at all.

He (the removed home secretary) did not interfere with the polls at all.
I think the CEO despised the Mizo people. It shows in the way he was acting. It was communal.  The home secretary didn’t redirect senior officials at all. And I’m sorry that such a senior and honest official had to face so much humiliation in front of the whole country.

We all know how rigorous the election process can be for anyone. First question, does it get easier from one time to the next. And at this age, how are you managing your campaign?

It remains tough, very tough. In spite of my 80 years, I don’t want to let go. I’m not going to let go. I want to stay young and work as hard as I did when I was younger.