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Rediff News  All News  » News » How Lal Thanhawla saved Congress the embarrassment in Mizoram

How Lal Thanhawla saved Congress the embarrassment in Mizoram

December 14, 2013 16:36 IST

Indian elections are puzzling, to say the least. In Rajasthan, despite rolling out several pro-poor policies -- such as free medicine and a pension scheme for the poor -- the Congress lost resoundingly. In Mizoram, it won resoundingly, for precisely that reason -- pro-poor policies.

The modest Lal Thanhawla became the only Congress leader in the five states that went to polls this month to retain power. This is the fifth successive time he has become chief minister. This time, the Congress won because of the New Land Use Policy introduced in 2011 to encourage farmers to move away from jhum cultivation.

Farmers were given agricultural training and financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh over one year. The state’s arable land is less than 20 per cent of the total land mass even though 60 per cent of its population of one million depends on farming.

Former member secretary of the Planning Commission Sudha Pillai says she got a text message from Lal Thanhawla thanking her for ensuring the policy went through. It’s mostly because of her coaxing and fighting that the Centre will, over five years (starting 2011), pay Rs 2,800 crore to Mizoram as viability gap funding assistance.

This is being done to ensure that the government’s projects, including those concerning employment, take off the ground. The New Land Use Policy is part of the exercise to make planning relevant to the people. Lal Thanhawla will take the message to the people that the government cares for them.

Pillai says the figures tell the story of his repeated victories better. During the 11th Plan (2007-2012), the state achieved 11 per cent growth (agriculture 7.3 per cent, industry 12.3 per cent and services 11.2 per cent) against the target of 8 per cent.

Higher growth should be attributed to performance of agriculture and allied sectors and this, in turn, had entirely to do with the efficient implementation of the New Land Use Policy during the period.

The growth rate in the 9th Plan was 5.7 per cent and in the 10th Plan, it touched 7.1 per cent.

The crux of the scheme was that the farmers were given Rs 1 lakh per family to abandon jhum cultivation and start a new mode to eke out a living. Pineapple cultivation with backward integration for canning was one such mode. Handicraft and handloom weaving was another.

There were scores of such proposals. And where the state government fell short of money, the central package came to the rescue.

Lal Thanhawla was rewarded by the people for improving their lifestyle. He added some sweeteners: three AstroTurf football and hockey grounds each and two floodlit sports grounds.

In Mizoram, it is Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who are the gods. Newspapers noted Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell match but everyone was at home glued to the TV watching the Manchester United vs Arsenal match on November 10.

Mizoram is affectionate about the Congress: it was Rajiv Gandhi who brought peace to Lushai hills by forging the Mizo Accord that ironically saw Lal Thanhawla bow out of the race for chief ministership -- that was a precondition for the rebels laying down arms.

A former journalist who was UG (Northeastern speak for Under Ground) with the Mizo National Front, says Lal Thanhawla is known in his state as the ‘chief guest minister’ -- he attends every public, social and private function across his constituency.

What he is best known for is plain speaking. Some years ago in Singapore, he lashed out at the Indian people’s “racial discrimination” against his “brothers and sisters” in the Northeast. It is one thing for an ordinary citizens to speak the truth, another for the chief minister.

He has been elected to power repeatedly. Mizoram tells us that some things still work and innocence is not always punished.

Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi