Aizawl, Nov 4 (PTI) Asserting that the Congress will win at least 25 of the 40 assembly seats in the November 7 Mizoram elections, its state unit chief Lalsawta on Saturday said the party will initiate a series of reforms after attaining power to wipe out corruption and bring in good governance.
In an interview with PTI, the 77-year-old veteran politician underlined that only the Congress can steer Mizoram out of "financial mismanagement" and promised to introduce the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) if it returns to power.
"The campaign is going very well and we are gaining ground. As per reports from various parts of the state, we may get 26 seats. If not that, at least 25 seats are for sure," he added.
The Congress is contesting all the 40 seats. In the last assembly elections of 2018, it had won five seats. Recently, one of its legislators resigned and joined the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF).
Lalsawta, considered to be a strong contender for the chief minister's post if the Congress gets a majority, claimed that the MNF and the main opposition party Zoram People's Movement (ZPM) are both looking to form an alliance with the BJP.
"This is not going down well with the people of the state. Mizos are very religious and over 80 per cent of the state's population is Christian. They enjoy freedom of religion and don't want the BJP because of its Hindutva ideology. People know that religious freedom will be ensured only when the Congress forms the government," he added.
Lalsawta, who is seeking re-election for the fourth term and contesting from Aizawl West-III this time, said that the BJP cannot bank on the MNF, which is a part of the NDA, due to its "poor performance" in the last five years and that is why, the saffron party is looking for a new ally in the form of ZPM.
"In this backdrop, the Congress has reinvented itself. We know what Mizoram wants. People have confidence in us and our policies. We will change the style of governance and make it pro-people," he added.
The senior Congress leader said that if the party comes to power, it will form a cabinet sub-committee in the first meeting of the council of ministers to initiate reforms in every sector of the administration.
"This sub-committee will be a permanent body. Its prime objective will be to eliminate corruption from the state. We will have to start a new way of functioning through a series of administrative reforms. Mizoram will see a new form of governance," he added.
Lalsawta, who was the finance minister in the previous Congress government till 2018, asserted that only the grand old party can bring the state out of "utter fiscal mismanagement that was witnessed during the five-year tenure of the MNF".
"Mizoram is a poor state and there are not many sources of revenue generation other than GST collection. We depend mostly on centrally sponsored schemes, which are implemented in a 90:10 ratio with the majority portion being funded by the Union government.
"That amount is huge and if it is properly managed, a lot of problems of the state can be solved. Because of this, we have promised that we will introduce OPS in place of the National Pension System (NPS) for the state government employees," he added.
Lalsawta became the Congress president after the retirement of Lal Thanhawla, the longest-serving chief minister of Mizoram, from active politics. The former minister, who looked after the financial affairs, carries a clean image and is known as a man who can fix the fiscal problems of the state, which is under heavy debt.
The septuagenarian leader also said that the Congress, if it comes to power, will strengthen grassroots democracy by giving more power, responsibilities and financial resources to the village councils and urban local bodies.
"We will establish a young Mizo entrepreneurship programme with startup funding provision to create one lakh jobs. We also plan to give health insurance cover of Rs 15 lakh per family for cashless treatment in hospitals to households that do not have a permanent government employee," he added.
For assisting patients undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious ailments, the Congress will make a budget provision of Rs 5 crore every year, Lalsawta said.
"Besides, we will provide LPG gas cylinders at Rs 750 under some specific schemes as well as for the women-headed families," he added.
Asked about the Congress's position on the refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh as well as those coming from Manipur due to ongoing ethnic violence, Lalsawta said Mizoram cannot look the other way when fellow human beings are in distress.
"We will help them as long as we can. We will discuss with the Centre to find a way out to handle the crisis without creating further problems for the displaced people," he added.
More than 31,000 people from Myanmar have been living in Mizoram and the state government has provided them with all required relief. These refugees, mostly from Chin state, fled after a military coup in Myanmar in February 2021.
After the ethnic clash broke out in neighbouring Manipur in May this year, over 12,000 Kuki people fled their homes, took shelter in Mizoram and have been receiving support from the state government. Some of them returned later.
Polling for the 40-member Mizoram Assembly will be held on November 7 and votes will be counted on December 3. PTI TR TR ACD