It’s time we focused on the fifth state that went to vote for the richness and diversity it has given India.
New Delhi: While obsessing over the four states of MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, there was a fifth state that was going to the polls: Mizoram.
Let’s take a break from the heartland politics and take a look at this tiny and beautiful state, why it matters, what is it that we know about it, and what is it that we need to know.
Mizoram, as we know, is a state in India’s Northeast. In fact, on the eastern side it is the southern most state in India.
It is tiny. In the 2011 Census, it had less than 12 lakh people, that’s all. Maybe today it’ll have 15 lakh people, but no more. It is also India’s most tribal state, so the largest percentage of its population is tribal. It’s also mostly a rural state.
Now it’s a state with very few people, but it’s not a small state. Look at the map of India: It borders Bangladesh on one side, Myanmar (or Burma) sort of alongside, then the state of Tripura, the state of Manipur, and the state of Assam. In fact, the main road going ahead from the plains is through Silchar, which is the capital of the Cachar regions of Assam.
This is a crucial state. It used to be a district till the ‘60s called Loshai district with a very small, microscopic population out of Assam. Then a bunch of events happened whereby the people of Mizoram got very angry.
Rats, famines & the beginning of an insurgency
Mizoram has a unique phenomenon whereby every 40-50 years bamboo in the state flowers. This bamboo contains an alkeloid which is sweet, which rats love, but also makes rats very fertile!
Suddenly, millions and millions of rats are produced, and they float all over the place emptying graneries, destroying the fields, and causing a famine. This is called ‘Mautam’.
There was a Mautam famine in the late 50s, and the people of Mizoram thought that the state capital of Assam — and Shillong was too far — had not bothered for them.
That’s when a man called Mr Laldenga, who had earlier served in the Indian Army as a havaldar, and was now a clerk with the state government, he formed an organisation called Mizo National Famine Front to carry out famine relief.
Through that he became popular, the organisation became popular. In the course of time it acquired weapons — as you know that region is tough — what is Bangladesh today was East Pakistan then, there was China next door, both were supporting insurgencies in India from, and so he acquired arms and training from them and declared independence on March 5, 1966.
Laldenga overran many of the garrisons of Assam Rifles paramilitary force, and was about to overrun the garrison of Assam Rifles battalion headquarters in Aizawl, where the families and officers of the civil administration had also taken refuge.
And then terrible things happened.
A seemingly unending war
Mrs Gandhi, who had been PM of India for five weeks — India was recovering from a war, it was a very fraught period in emergency and panic, where nothing could be done — used air power and sent Indian Air Force to bomb parts of Mizoram.
This was the first and only time in its history that the Indian government used air power against its own people.
That’s where this really bitter history began, and it led to a two-decade-long, terrible insurgency.
Terrible things were done by both sides: The insurgents killed a lot of civilians, soldiers, officials, and the armed forces were also given the AFSPA with a free hand. There are lots of atrocities carried out.
Unfortunately, unlike today, the media wasn’t so active, nor was civil society, and so terrible injustices and cruelties were committed in the tiny state of Mizoram. In fact, learning from the British experiences of the Malayan insurgency, the Indian Army even tried to resettle distant villagers into villages along the roads that they could control — a little like the failed Chhattisgarh Salwa Judum experiment much later.
With this background, it looked like there would never be peace, and on 13th January 1975, the MNF carried out its most sensational attack.
Its assassins walked into the police HQs, where the IG who was the head of police was having a meeting with his intelligence chief and his DIG.
The insurgents walked into his office and killed them all.
Suddenly, the entire top brass of Mizoram’s police was assassinated; it looked like this war will continue.
Then what happened?
A truce, and some lessons in peace
Ten years later, when Rajiv Gandhi came to power, he reached out to the leader of the Mizo underground, Mr Laldenga, and struck a peace agreement. By that time, the Army had restored a lot of order and controlled most of the territory, but there were still attacks by insurgents.
The peace accord signed by Laldenga and Rajiv Gandhi was wonderful. It was one of the high points of Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership, and I would say one of the high points of India’s constitutional power and flexibility.
Laldenga along with his followers came over ground, all of them gave up their weapons, and they joined the mainstream. An election was held in which Laldenga himself — who wanted a free Mizoram, who declared a sovereign state, who wanted to be president of the republic of Mizoram — became the Chief Minister of Mizoram. It’s a wonderful story.
This story persuaded me to develop what I call the graph of Indian insurgencies: A bell curve. In India, insurgencies rise, the state’s response rises accordingly, it reaches a point whereby the insurgents know that they cannot win…and that’s when they’re willing to talk and settle, and then the government has the big heart and sense to make a concessions, and the constitution has the flexibilities.
Since this happened, Mizoram has remained peaceful. It has had many elections, then Laldenga lost power, other people came to power. But if you look at the political elite of Mizoram, even in the Congress, you will find that most of the people who have been elected to power have been former underground people.
As the bell curve turned, all the same fighters came back into the constitutional fold, and they are now flying the tricolour on their cars.
It’s a wonderful state, I would say visit it, watch it, see how it functions, enjoy the beauty of the Mizo people, and Mizo names as well.
Every Mizo name has a meaning. The “Mi” of Mizoram means “me”, “zo” means mountains, and “ram” means home, so highlanders home is what it means.
Why is it important?
One, it is important because of where it’s located. Second, it is such a compliment to India’s diversity, that a small population of 15 lakh people can have a state which can run so well.
It’s a very progressive state with almost 100 per cent literacy, and it’s had it for a very long time. The small population of Mizos does very well in all India’s services. In fact, many of them rise to high stature…Mr Sangliana, the famous officer in Bangalore who became an MP is from Mizoram.
This is a very vital state for India because it has taught India how former combatants can shake hands and become friends, brothers, sisters, forever.
Not sovereign, but independent
When I went to cover the MNF-Rajiv Gandhi agreement in Aizawl, I wanted to meet a young woman called Vanlal Zari — her name means something like branch from God’s own tree. She was the secretary to the I-G who was killed by the MNF.
She was charged with helping the insurgents come in and carry out a terror attack. She was convicted and sentenced to a long spell in jail. As part of the peace agreement, she was pardoned, she came overground, and she was now working on the election campaign of the MNF.
So I went to her and I asked her, “Zari”, as everyone called her, “you were fighting for independence, why are you now joining the Indian mainstream and fighting an election as an Indian state leader?”
She said, “Look, we realise that sovereignty doesn’t mean independence. We don’t need sovereignty to be independent.”
This was in ‘85-‘86, that’s when the Cold War hadn’t yet ended, and the Warsaw Pact was very much around. She said, “Look at Poland, it has sovereignty, but is it independent?”
In which other state, and which other country, would a young woman, who had spent so many years in jail for being complicit in a terror act, give you wisdom like this?
This is how interesting and important Mizoram is. They may not count for that much when it comes to larger calculations of Indian politics, but they are invaluable for us in their diversity, talent, and for what they teach us.