Under the Seventh Schedule of the Indian constitution there is something called the “Reservation of seats for Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assemblies of the States.” Article 332(1) of the constitution states that “[s]eats shall be reserved for…the Scheduled Tribes…in the Legislative Assembly of every State.”
This provision of the constitution gives members of the Scheduled Tribes listed in the respective States the exclusive right to contest in an election in the reserved Legislative Assembly constituencies of the States and no member of a Scheduled Tribe other than those mentioned in the Scheduled Tribes list of the State can do so without being disqualified. In other words, if you are not a member of a Scheduled Tribe, you are barred from being elected in the reserved constituencies. This equally applies to a candidate even if he is a member of a Scheduled Tribe but is not recognized in the State.
How do we know this?
We know this because under Part II, Chapter III of The Representation of The People Act, 1951, Section 5(a) lays out the “Qualifications for membership of a Legislative Assembly” where it says, “[a] person shall not be qualified to be chosen to fill a seat in the Legislative Assembly of a State unless…in the case of a seat reserved…for the Scheduled Tribes of that State, he is a member of any of…those tribes…and is an elector for any Assembly constituency in that State.”
How many of the 40 seats in the Mizoram Legislative Assembly are reserved only for the Scheduled Tribes of the State?
According to Article 332(1)(3A)(a) of the constitution, “the number of seats in the Legislative Assemblies of the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, the seats which shall be reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly of any such State shall be…all the seats except one.”
40 minus 1 is 39. And so 39 seats in the Mizoram State Legislative Assembly are reserved exclusively for the tribals listed in the State. The only seat that is open for non-tribals and tribals not mentioned in the Schedule Tribes List of Mizoram is the seat for the MLA from the Aizawl East 1 constituency.
How many tribes are recognised in the State of Mizoram?
According to the constitution of India, the number of tribes recognized in the State of Mizoram is not less than 50 and it could be as many as 100 depending on who you ask. The number is unclear because the classification of tribes is unclear among the majority Zo tribes and the Government of Mizoram has not come up with an answer. Interestingly, Chakmas of all the 46 gozas or clans come under one banner i.e. Chakma, unlike the many Zo clans and tribes who are scattered all over!
Take for example, the Ralte clan. In Mizoram, the Ralte clan has been absorbed into the greater Mizo tribe and no Ralte will say he is not a Mizo today. And rightly so. The Ralte dialect is all but forgotten by the Ralte clan and sub-clans in Mizoram. And this is, in a way, a good thing because it says goodbye to sub-regionalism and sub-ethnicity for good! But in Manipur, the Ralte clan is actually recognised as an independent Scheduled Tribe. They donot fall under the Mizo tribe. One of the reasons for this is perhaps the fact that the first data entry error in the list of Scheduled Tribes in 1950 essentially defined “Mizos” as only “Lushais”. This excludes all non-Lusei tribes/clans from being recognised as Mizos under the interpretation of Lushai as Lusei. Hence, the separate recognition of Raltes as a tribe in the State of Manipur.
As mentioned earlier, in Mizoram, the Zo tribes and clans still strangely struggle to find a common identity even though it has been decades since Mizo nationalism swept the state under the leadership of MNF supremo Laldenga. During the 20-year war of independence, hundreds of young men fought, sacrificed and died for the Mizo identity and nation. But, unfortunately, this generation has forgotten that identity which was bought with a heavy price – the blood of the Mizo martyrs.
It is a rather embarassing fact that the Mizo and all other Zo tribes and clans in Mizoram and perhaps beyond can actually learn something from the Chakmas in this regard.
Chakmas are said to be comprised of 46 clans or gojas and many more sub-clans or guttis but you will rarely find someone from any of the Chakma gojas or guttis who will say he is not a Chakma. On the other hand, the many Zo tribes and clans in Mizoram will have many responses! This inconsistency is often brushed off as trivial but in the eyes of the law, it is a serious matter. It can even disqualify an MLA!
Consider Sports Minister Zodintluanga, the MLA from Thorang constituency. He is a Ralte and as mentioned earlier, the constitution of India already acknowledges Raltes as a separate Scheduled Tribe. Under Section 5(a) of The Representation of The People Act, 1951, the Minister is not “qualified to be chosen to fill a seat in the Legislative Assembly” because Thorang is a reserved constituency for the Scheduled Tribes of the State of Mizoram and the State’s Scheduled Tribes List does not have Raltes as one of the recognized tribes.
If this was brought before the Election Commission of India or a competent court, Section 5 of The Representation of The People Act and Article 332 of the constitution of India will have to be ignored for nothing to be done.
Mass disqualification is really just ’round the corner!