Author name: 
Jaideep Saikia, Terrorism and Conflict Analyst and author/editor of several books. He has served the Govt. of India as an Expert on North East India in the National Security Council Secretariat and the Govt. of Assam in security advisory capacities.
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Thirty one years—in the timeline of nation-building—certainly do not define a life time. Indeed, Mizoram Accord completed 31 years on 30 June 2017.  Signed between the Mizo National Front (MNF) and New Delhi in 1986, the Accord has been termed as the only successful accord in India, with observers referring to it as “the only insurgency in the world which ended with a stroke of pen.” Even the President of India has correctly termed the Mizo Accord—during an address to a special session of the Mizoram Assembly on 30 November 2017—as a “shining example all over the world”. Indeed the signing of the Accord, not only ended two decades of insurgency which had broken out in the 1960s, but also paved the way for the former insurgents headed by Laldenga to form the government in Mizoram.

 

Insurgency had erupted in the Lushai Hills in 1966, following armed action by Mizo National Front (MNF) which emerged out of the Mizo National Famine Front that was formed by Laldenga to protest against the apathy of the government towards the famine (mautam) in the Mizo areas of Assam in 1959. The onset of famine first exhibited itself in the flowering of bamboos, a phenomenon that augurs the advent of famine, and which results in a profusion of rats. The rodent population then ate up the bamboo seeds, turning towards crops and human habitation, taking on thereby the dimension of a full-blown plague. The mayhem created by the rats was appalling and very little of the grain could be harvested. The Mizos had to sustain themselves on leaves and roots, even as large numbers perished as a result of starvation.

 

One of the finest chroniclers of the North East, Nirmal Nibedon wrote about the mautam and the manner in which it was handled in a telling manner:

 

“In the fall of 1958, the Mizo tribesman were waiting for mautam—waiting for that inevitable cycle of nature that always came, manifesting itself through the bamboo that covered nearly one-third of their land. Early records vaguely mentioned the mautam. The British administration had experienced this phenomenon in 1911. Every fifty years it comes, said the ancient legends of the tribesmen. It had come in 1826...The horrors of mautam, though not in the written records of the tribesmen, were indelibly stamped in their minds. Elders always spoke about the flowering of bamboo plants which brought with it a plague of rats, an ecological aberration as yet not clear to them in modern terms...the villagers were not the only ones to notice the ugliness of the bamboo stump in its moment of death. In Aizawl, the Chief Executive Member, Saprawnga, too had observed the withering of the plant, the flowers turning into fruits, the harbinger of its death...Saprawnga was worried as the flowers started falling into the undergrowth and were blown all over with the wind. The Mizo Union sent an SOS and then a delegation to the plains for expert advice. The Assam government sent an entomologist who camped for a couple of nights at Aizawl finding no evidence whatsoever to connect the increase in the rat population to that of the flowering of the bamboo groves...What the Assam government could have done and never did was to take some kind of normal precautionary measures...The Chief Executive Member and his colleagues wanted an immediate supply of rice to be stocked in the interiors, knowing full well that at the height of the crisis they would not be able to move the foodgrains to the interiors for lack of proper roads. The Assam government, in its typically slow and indifferent manner, had not grasped the situation.” [Mizoram: The Dagger Brigade, Nirmal Nibedon]

 

The manner in which the authorities handled the famine left the Mizos disillusioned, and soon secessionist feelings were running high among the Mizo population. The Mizo National Famine Front, which was initially found to help alleviate the hardships of the people during the famine, was transformed into the belligerent Mizo National Front on 22 October 1961.

 

MNF staged a major uprising in 1966, followed by years of underground activities. Like the Nagas, the Mizos also sought and received the aid of Pakistan, China and certain groupings in Myanmar. A former bureaucrat has written about the less known China connection of MNF thus:

 

“In November 1972, the first MNF gang of 47 went from Arakan Hills in Burma to China under the leadership of MNF Major Demokhseik Gangte. They carried a compass but no maps and, taking the bearing from Arakan to China as 10 degrees North and confirming directions from the local people, reached their destination after 13 months. They passed through the Kachin area in Burma where the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) first mistook them for agents of the Burmese army and dispossessed them of all the weapons they were carrying. The KIA, however, provided them with clothing, food, escort and guides up to the Chinese border after they were convinced of their bona fides. This was on condition that the MNF would give them 50 per cent of the arms and ammunition they would receive from China, as the Nagas had done before them. The MNF entered Yunnan (Tinsum County) on December 28, 1973 and stayed in China for three months and ten days. The Chinese gave them 3 radio transmitters/receivers, 32 light machine guns, 12 pistols, 4 rocket-launchers (M 40) and 78 rockets, 28,614 rounds of ammunition, 32,000 US dollars, 62,000 Burmese Kyats, 69 gold chains of over ten ounces of gold each. In addition, each person received two pairs of olive-green uniforms, two pairs of boots, one cap, and one mosquito net, as well as a total of ten inflatable life-boats for crossing rivers, and some books by Mao-Tse-Tung.” [Mizoram: Contours of Non-military Intervention, Vijendra Singh Jafa]

 

The sojourn in China, however, had disillusioned the MNF cadres, and the Chinese interlude did not transform itself into a strong relationship. This was to a great extent because of the influence of Christianity on Mizo society. But, the inability to come to terms with the Communist Manifesto did not prevent MNF from undertaking some daring operations. On 13 January 1975, Lalhleia, a self-styled Mizo National Army captain and three of his cadres drove a jeep into the police headquarters in broad day-light and shot GS Ayra, Inspector General of Police, LB Sewa, Deputy Inspector General of Police and Panchapagesan, Superintendent of Police while they were in a meeting, and escaped. Earlier on 10 January 1974, MNF cadres had ambushed SP Mukerjee, the lieutenant Governor of Mizoram. All such actions created a sensation in Mizoram as also aided the morale of MNF.

 

But, after years of insurgency, MNF—despite aid from anti-India forces, which did not fail to read the faultlines in occasional Indian systemic failure—realised the futility of armed conflict and decided to settle for an armistice.  Renouncing violence, the movement returned to “God and Country”, and, as aforesaid, Mizoram became a haven of peace in a region characterised by turmoil. Indeed, Zoramthanga, the redoubtable deputy of Laldenga who took over the reins after the latter’s demise, offered to mediate between various insurgent groups in the North East and New Delhi. But, New Delhi failed to not only utilise the offer of the former insurgent leader, but also to exhibit the success of the Mizoram Accord, the accomplishment of which was primarily due to the untiring efforts of agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau.

 

The notables in the Mizoram Accord of 1986 included:

a. Handing over of all arms, ammunition and equipments to the central government

b. Preparation for settlement and rehabilitation of underground personnel

c. Conferment of statehood on the Union Territory of Mizoram

d. The state will be at liberty to adopt any one or more language for official purposes

e. Establishment of a separate university for the state

f. The state to have a High Court of its own

 

The accord also sought to cater for the following provisions:

 

  1. The Central Government will take steps for the settlement and rehabilitation of underground after considering the scheme proposed in this regard by the Government of Mizoram.
  2. The MNF will not undertake to extend any support to the Tripura National Volunteer (TNV), Peoples’ Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA) and any other such group by way of training, supply of arms of providing protection or in any other matters.
  3. With a view to satisfying the desires and aspirations of all sections of the people of Mizoram, the Government will initiate measures to confer Statehood on the Union Territory of Mizoram subject to the other stipulation contained in this Memorandum of Settlement.
  4. Notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution, no act of Parliament in respect of (a) religion or social practices of the Mizos, (b) Mizo customary law or procedure, (c) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Mizo customary law, (d) ownership and transfer of land, shall apply to the State of Mizoram unless the Legislative Assembly of Mizoram by a resolution so decides.
  5. The question of Unification of Mizo inhabited areas of other States to form one administrative unit was raised by the MNF delegation. It was pointed out to them, on behalf of the Government of India, that Article 3 of the Constitution of India describes the procedure in this regard but that the Government cannot make any commitment in this respect.
  6. It was noted that there is already a scheme in force for payment of ex gratia amount to heirs/dependants of persons who were killed during disturbances in 1966 and thereafter in the Union Territory of Mizoram. Arrangement will be made to expeditiously disburse payment to those eligible persons who have already applied but who had not been made such payment so far.

 

A modicum of protest has been voiced as a result of the non-implementation of some of the accord proposals, especially about the correct rehabilitation of the former insurgents. Indeed, the Peace Accord MNF Returnees Association had threatened to file an FIR against the then Chief Minister of Mizoram, Zoramthanga and Public Health minister, Tawnliia for not completing the rehabilitation process. There has been dissonance about the non-payment of ex gratia compensation to some of the victims of the conflict as well. The non-institution of a separate High Court for Mizoram also continues to be a grouse. But, the Mizoram Accord—if it is to be compared with other accords that have been signed in the North East and elsewhere—approximates the grade of success by most counts. An important reason for the success of the Mizoram Accord has been the ability of MNF and the government to display charity. For instance, MNF renounced its claims for a Greater Mizoram. The role of civil society in prolonging the peace dividend and the taking of steps to prevent a post-accord breakdown was important. This was possible because of the close working relationship between the Mizoram government and the civil society, of which the church was a vital constituent. But the accord has been criticised on the grounds that it catered to the concerns of a single group, the ethnic Lushai community. To that end, further accords had to be signed with the Brus and the Hmars, not all of which were comprehensive affairs. But, the Mizoram Accord was triumph of political reconciliation over conflict and violence. This is so despite the fact that certain aspects both within and without the accord merit attention.

 

One aspect that pertains to the bygone insurgency in Mizoram, but has come to the fore recently is the sad event that marked the run-up to the 31st anniversary of the Mizoram Accord. Indeed, if not redressed, it has the potential of once again alienating the populace in the manner it did during the mautam over half-a-century ago. On 5 March 2011 several hundred Mizos took out a silent procession in Aizawl to mark the 45th year of the aerial bombing of the Mizo capital and other places during the campaign to stem the insurgency that was raging in the Lushai Hills at the time. It was perhaps the only theatre where air power was used to control internal strife. The air attacks, which commenced five days after Laldenga declared “independence from the Indian Union”, reportedly, turned the picturesque hill station of Aizawl into a heap of rubble. Although there is no official estimate of the human casualties during the air raids on Aizawl, Tlabung on the Mizoram-Bangladesh border and Sangau and Hnahlan on the Mizoram-Myanmar boundary, anecdotal reports are of the opinion that at least 20 people were killed in the attacks. The Aizawl rallyists held placards that read “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they did to us,” and demanded a public apology from New Delhi “for attacking its own citizens with combat aircraft as if the Mizos were its enemies.” Despite the fact Mizoram is presently one of the most peaceful states not only in the North East, but also in the entire country, memories of the attacks continue to haunt the survivors of the aerial strikes, in which Hunter jets were used against MNF insurgents, who had laid a siege of the Assam Rifles garrison in Aizawl on 5 March 1966. According to press reports, former Lok Sabha member from Mizoram, H. Lallungmuana, addressing the demonstrators (in 2011), regretted that New Delhi “still refuse[d] to apologise to the Mizos for the terrible action 45 years ago,” adding that “the Mizos will try to break away from their step parents if the feeling of being neglected or Delhi’s step-motherly attitude towards them continues.” It is imperative, therefore, that the feeling of alienation is not allowed to grow: regret for unfortunate action that took place many years would only showcase centrist magnanimity to the periphery, especially to a populace that has long abjured violence and has returned to the mainstream.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of Manipal Advanced Research Group.