The seat had fallen vacant on August 18 when Lal Thanzara resigned as its Member of Legislative Assembly after a Scroll.in investigation revealed in June that he had held shares in a road construction company getting contracts from the state government.
A few days after the Scroll article was published, activists flagged another questionable set of transactions. HP Food Products, a company first owned by Lal Thanzara and then by his son, had supplied high-protein biscuits to the state government between 2010 and 2014.
These deals did more than run afoul of India's Representation of the People Act, 1951, which forbids elected representatives from entering into trade and business contracts with the government. Given that Lal Thanzara's brother, Lal Thanhawla, was Mizoram's chief minister at that time, they also created an outcome where Lal Thanhawla's government was giving contracts to companies part-owned by his family members.
Opposition lunges in
As activists and the rival Mizo National Front attacked the government for both transactions, Lal Thanzara stepped down as cabinet minister and elected representative of Aizawl North in mid-August. At that time, Scroll described his resignation as a tactical one – one designed to blunt the opposition's attack – saying that he would, in all likelihood, stand for the bypolls.
That is exactly what has happened.
The development underscores how hard it is to hold elected representatives to account.
If found guilty by the Election Commission, which oversees the implementation of the Representation of People's Act, he would have been disqualified from contesting elections for the next six years. Accordingly, activist Laltanpuia Pachuau wrote to both the Election Commission and Mizoram governor Lt Gov Nirbhay Sharma drawing their attention to the violation of the Act.
However, both institutions have moved slowly. In September, Pachuau was told by the Election Commission that it can follow only after “the Governor's consent or direction.” Earlier this week, when contacted, Pachuau added there was no word from the Governor's office yet on his complaint.
The other alternative was to establish corruption charges. And so, the Mizo National Front filed an FIR against Lal Thanzara in September.
But even this is a flawed option. As the Scroll article in August pointed out, the investigation has to be carried out by the state police's vigilance unit which is overseen by his brother, Lal Thanhawla. Second, a mere FIR doesn't prohibit candidates from contesting – only a conviction does.
Indeed, when asked why he was contesting despite the charges against him, the former minister said: “So? It is only an FIR.”
The activists are now pinning their hopes on the courts. But those take time too. A more immediate form of justice lies in the hands of the voters of Aizawl North.
Now to see how they vote on the November 21.
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