Mumbai: On November 28, 2018, Mizoram--the last northeast bastion of the Indian National Congress (INC)--will vote to power a new government that will oversee what is planned as India’s gateway to Southeast Asia.

With about half as many voters as south Mumbai, Mizoram is one of India’s fastest-growing, healthiest (second) and most-literate states (third).

However, our pre-election analysis of a state with 1.1 million people--as many as in Chandigarh-- reveals it is challenged by poverty, high dropout rates, racial tensions and inter-district inequalities, worries that the new government will have to address.

These issues threaten to slow the growth of a state that has been administered by either the Congress or the Mizo National Front (MNF), ever since a peace accord ended a long-running insurgency in 1986. That agreement officially ended a long-running Mizo uprising, marked by air raids on capital Aizawl 52 years ago in March 1966, the only time the Indian Air Force bombed its own people.

Mizoram’s 768,000 voters will vote in 40 constituencies to determine if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will make its first inroads and complete the party’s surge into India’s northeast.

After the victory of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura in March earlier in 2018, seven of eight states in the region ---Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur--are governed by the alliance.

Better than the rest, mostly

Led by Lal Thanhawla, former insurgent turned mainstream politician, the Congress has administered Mizoram for the last 10 years. Previously in the 2013 elections in Mizoram, the party won 34 of 40 seats. But since 2014, the Congress’ vote share declined 13.4 percentage points across the northeast, IndiaSpend reported on March 10, 2018.

Mizoram has been positioned as the epicentre of the union government’s Act East Policy, which aims to harness shared cultural and border ties shared between the India’s northeast and south-east Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and other ASEAN nations, some of which are the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Filtered through various indicators, Mizoram boasts a raft of high-performing statistics.

The state is one of the fastest growing states in the country, according to the Economic survey, 2017-2018, with its economy growing by 12% between 2013-2016. It has India’s second-best health indicators and third best literacy.

However, our analysis revealed that the state’s achievements are challenged by increasing poverty, racial tensions, high school-dropout rates and inter-district inequalities, which hinder growth.

Big ferment in a small state

Mizoram also grapples with illegal migrants, inter-tribal differences, an inability to create jobs for its educated youth and tensions sparked by allegations of corruption against the current government. These tensions have led to the rise of sub-regional alliances, such as the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM)--comprising of regional parties such as Zoram Nationalist Party, Mizoram People’s Conference and Zoram Exodus Movement--and this may disrupt the traditional exchange of governments between the INC and MNF.

More than 94% of Mizoram is tribal, 80% is Christian, and minorities, such as the Chakmas and Brus, claim racial discrimination at the hands of majority communities, such as the Lusei, Ralte, Hmar, Khiangte and Lai.

Last year, Buddha Dhan Chakma, the sole Chakma minister in the government, resigned alleging racial discrimination, after four Chakma medical students were denied admission even though they cleared the national exams.

What’s holding Mizoram back?

Mizoram has one of the lowest rates of anaemia among women in the northeastern (24.8%), child wasting (8.4%), stunting (28.1%) and underweight children (12%), according to data from the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4).

It ranked first among smaller states and second nationally in NITI Aayog’s overall 2018 health performance index. The state’s health-related successes can be attributed to its per capita expenditure on health, which as IndiaSpend previously reported, was five times the national average: 4.5% of gross domestic product (GDP)in 2015, compared to India’s 1.02%.

However, Mizoram’s progress has lagged other states. Manipur, which ranked second among smaller states in NITI Aayog’s Health index, improved by 7.18% compared to Mizoram’s 2.43%.

What is slowing Mizoram?

Even as northeast India experiences a surge of growth, with more educated citizens and dwindling reliance on agriculture, not enough jobs are being created, IndiaSpend reported on February 1, 2016.

The region is simultaneously experiencing an increase in poverty--a trend opposed to the national experience, with the proportion of the northeastern population rising from 21.9% to 29.8% over two years to 2011, according to the latest available government data.

Source : Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India, 2016.
Note: Population below poverty line is as per the “Tendulkar method” on mixed reference period (MRP).

The proportion of Mizoram’s people living below the poverty line rose from 15.4% to 20.4% over seven years to 2011, according to the Reserve Bank of India’s Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy, 2016, which uses an index called the mixed reference period (MRP) The MRP measures consumption of five items over 365 days. These include clothing, footwear, durables, education and health spending.

Our analysis also found that Mizoram’s high literacy rates are marred by high school-dropout rates and inter-district disparities. The dropout rates in primary and secondary schools are 15.36% and 30.67%, respectively, more than the comparable national averages of 6.35% and 19.89%; Mizoram’s dropout rates are also the northeast’s highest, according to 2017 government data.

There is a 38.76 percentage point gap in literacy between the most literate district (Serchhip,98.76%) and the least literate (Mamit,60%), according to Census 2011. The districts of Lawngtlai (66%) and Mamit (60%) suffer literacy rates lower than not just the state average but the national average of 70.04%.

Mamit (82.51%) and Lawngtlai (85.06%) also had Mizoram’s highest proportion of rural households and were the state’s poorest districts with 90% of Lawngtlai living in poverty in 2009, followed by Mamit (83.2%),according to 2013 state government data, the latest available. The capital, Aizawl, Mizoram’s most-urban district, also had the lowest poverty rates.

Source : Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011, Mizoram Human Development Report 2013

Farm protests, decline in agriculture

Hills cover over 80% of Mizoram, and with 60% of the population dependent of agriculture, according to 2014-15 government data, the state is challenged by difficult-to-farm areas and declining soil quality, affected by the tradition of jhum--or slash and burn--cultivation.

A National Land Use Policy, 2009 (NLUP), which aims to revitalise the primary sector by introducing alternatives to jhum cultivation, such as reforestation and market infrastructure, has been a prominent promised intervention by the state government and the Congress’ previous election campaigns.

But NLUP funding has been roiled by allegations of corruption. In 2015, a government audit found funds for bamboo plantations filched. Farmers took to the streets of Aizawl to protest the NLUP’s failure in providing a market to farmers, who were made to choose broom grass and ginger cultivation, the Morung Express, reported on September 29, 2018. The farmers also protested the lack of roads.

As on March 2016, Mizoram had 8,108 km of roads, 17.6% less than the 9,831 reported the previous year. While the length of national highways (1,381km) has remained unchanged, state highways declined from 214 km in 2015 to 170 km in 2016. Mizoram is a multi-hazard prone area and is annually affected by torrential rainfall, flash floods and landslides. The deteriorating condition of roads are further exacerbated by poor maintenance.

Women are educated, working, but none in the assembly

Mizoram reports 976 females per 1000 males, as per Census 2011--the national statistic is 943 females per 1000 males--and it records the second highest rate of female labour force participation (54%) after Chhattisgarh, according to data from the Employment-Unemployment Survey, 2015-2016.

Yet, as the state goes to vote, another contradiction emerges: Mizoram had 2.62% more women voters than men in 2013. But all 40 legislators are men. Of the six women who contested the 2013 elections, only one was from the Congress.

In 2018, 4.8% more women electors are set to vote. Whether any of the men will be displaced will be clear on 11 December 2018.

(Chhetri is a graduate of Lady Shri Ram College for women. Singh is an intern with IndiaSpend.)

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