An Undemocratic Demand in Mizoram
The dispute has pan-India implications
An electoral dispute in Mizoram must be resolved on principle rather than guided by expedience. On November 28, Mizoram, the remotest state in India, will elect legislators for all 40 assembly seats. With only one Lok Sabha seat, the state carries little weight in national politics, but recent events there are of pan-India importance. The state’s centrally appointed chief electoral officer (CEO) is at loggerheads with chief minister Lal Thanhawla and powerful organisations that swing opinion and policy. The latter want CEO S B Shashank removed. The CEO wants members of a tribe called Bru in Mizoram and Reang elsewhere in the northeast, to vote in these elections, but Mizos will have none of that.
From the late 1990s, Vaishnavaite-animist Reangs, whose origins lie in Tripura, have fled Mizoram following persecution by a section of Christian Mizos. Christians happen to comprise nearly 90% of Mizoram’s population. The Reangs want to vote either from refugee camps in Tripura and Assam, or in poll booths on the Tripura-Mizoram border. They fear for their safety if forced to vote in booths within Mizoram. Mizos, who refuse to acknowledge Reangs or Brus as members of ‘their’ society, believe this is a conspiracy of New Delhi to undermine Mizos. Things have come to such a pass that Lal Thanhawla was prevented from filing his nomination papers by agitators. All this goes against the grain of our Constitution that makes every Indian of any faith, caste or creed equal in the democratic process. If Reangs or Brus are prevented from exercising their democratic right by majoritarian pressure in Mizoram, what is to prevent majority Hindus from snatching away voting rights from Muslims or other minorities in, say, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Assam?
The rule of a majoritarian mob by brute force will wreck India’s claim to be the largest and most diverse democracy in the world. It has the potential to damage democratic institutions in India just as the persecution of Rohingyas and Balochs has dented reputations in Yangon and Islamabad. The Centre must back the election commission, and uphold democracy.