Back in the 1980s, Judy Zohmingliani was with the Congress. She claimed she was rising up the ranks too: she had become vice president of the Mizoram Congress’s women’s wing. But Zohmingliani quit soon after – not just the Congress but politics altogether. “I did not see any chance for progress beyond the women’s wing,” said Zohmingliani, who now runs a successful business with her husband in Aizawl.
Nearly three decades later, Zohmingliani is giving politics another shot, courtesy the Bharatiya Janata Party. Unlike the Congress, where Zohmingliani claimed she did not get her due, the BJP is set to give her a ticket to contest the Assembly election later this month.
She is not alone. Several Mizo women with political ambitions seem to have found a home in the BJP. While only one woman, C Malsawmi, has been officially declared a candidate so far, five other women are likely to represent the BJP in the upcoming election to the 40-member Assembly, said JV Hluna, the party’s state president. The BJP is expected to release its final list of candidates on November 1.
Hluna said it was a “conscious decision” to bring more women into the BJP’s ranks in the state. The party has included two women even in the leadership: Zohmingliani as the vice president and Lalrinkimi as the secretary. “Every district unit’s leadership also has one woman,” he added. “This is not in the party’s central constitution, but this is a practice we are following in Mizoram.”
This is significant in a state where women’s representation in electoral politics has historically been scant. In the 46 years of its existence, Mizoram has seen only four women legislators. Partly, this is because political parties nominate few women. In the 2003 Assembly election, there were just five female candidates. The figure went up to nine in 2008, only to plummet to three in 2013.
This time too, all the major parties except the BJP have stuck to tradition. While the ruling Congress has nominated one woman, the Opposition Mizo National Front has not fielded a single woman. Senior leaders in both parties said these numbers are not expected to change in the coming days. The newly-formed Zoram People’s Movement has done marginally better, fielding two women.
Lalduhpuii, who is expected to be fielded from Tuichang, said she joined the BJP because “it is the only party which is giving us a chance to become an MLA”. “Most other parties do not care, they are ignoring us,” said Lalduhpuii, who runs a family business as well. “This is because [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi ji is taking care of women. He has so many schemes for women.”
Another businesswoman, F Lalremsiami the BJP’s likely candidate for Aizawl South 3 constituency, said the party is the natural choice for her. “I went to Gujarat and saw the development and also talked to minority leaders who said there was no problem,” she added.
Fawni, who is also president of the Mizoram Village Council Association, claimed that she could have got a ticket from any party. “But I just believe in the BJP more because of Modi ji,” said Lalremsiami who holds a Master’s degree in political science from Kanpur University.
‘They don’t want to do politics’
P Lalthangpuii, general secretary of the Mizo Hmeichhia Insuih Pawl, Mizoram’s largest women’s collective with over 80 branches, argued that the lack of female representation in the state’s politics is often voluntary as women are quite prominent in public life otherwise. “Educated women are happy with their jobs, they don’t want to do politics, which involves a lot of mud-slinging against each other,” she said, even as she conceded that “Mizo women have very little say even in the household”.
Her collective, Lalthangpuii said, has been “encouraging” women to take an active part in politics. “This year we have distributed pamphlets appealing to women to vote for women candidates irrespective of political affiliations,” she added.
No ‘competent women’?
The other political parties claimed they do not have enough “competent women” in their ranks to field in the election. “If there is reservation like with elections in local bodies and municipal councils, we can do it then,” said Ruata, a general secretary of the Mizo National Front. “But not now.”
He dismissed the BJP’s decision to field six women candidates as a move for “name’s sake”. The proposed candidates are “not influential and not convincing at all”, Ruata claimed.
But the women affirmed they are far from token candidates and will not play the “woman card”. “I have never felt inferior as a woman,” said Zohmingliani. “There are a lot of men who can’t do the things I can.”
Lalremsiami concurred. “Where men fail, women step in,” she said. “I have to win, I must win.”