Thursday, May 27, 2010

MIZORAM – A Saga of Secession, Violence and Re-Integration.

After gaining Independence, India had become a unified nation but to sustain this great achievement was going to be a massive political challenge for the times to come. The Congress party under whose leadership the people all over India were united in the struggle against the British Empire now had a more cumbersome task of making them live amongst each other as citizens of a common nation. Soon when the political & administrative necessity of dividing the Indian Union into several states came to the fore, the criteria of division was based on Languages under the pressure of linguistic political groups that were agitating all across India.

The then Indian Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru acceded to these agitators and the much needed crack down on these groups was not executed owing to one of his many eccentric idealisms. Thus this weak political will mired by an inept leadership led to the division of India on linguistic lines which further led to the opening up of a Pandora’s Box of identity politics and the birth of secessionist tendencies in several parts of the country for decades to come.

Such is the impact that whenever the word ‘Secessionist’ comes, the first thought that comes to an Indian mind is that of separatist movements in Kashmir or Assam or Manipur .However yet very few of them are aware that the modern day Indian state of Mizoram once upon a time not only started a secessionist movement but also went a leap ahead in declaring it’s full Independence from India. This event which still isn’t much known was nothing short of a Civil War that our country had to fight through.

Historically the region of Mizoram had such topographical distinctiveness in from of the Mizo hills and thick forests that it always supported distinct cultural traits which were different from that of people of other areas living around them. However after 1956 Mizoram along with many other present day north-eastern states were integrated as a part of the Greater Indian state of Assam. Since Language was the criteria for dividing the federation the ‘thought’ among several linguistically different sub-regions of Assam to become separate Indian states by virtue of that very same criteria began to gain ground.

Mizoram transformed this thought into action by swiftly forming a Mizo Cultural Society in 1959 for preserving their identity from the rest of the nation. A year later a severe famine hit Mizoram which led to a deep crisis in this desolate region. The effort to alleviate this problem by the State Government of Assam was seen as inadequate and there was a widespread protest against the government authorities everywhere. The subsequent crackdown by police to control the protests further aggravated their dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile the members of the Mizo Cultural Society decided to reorganize themselves into a separate entity called as the ‘Mizo National Famine Front’ for providing voluntary services for famine relief within the region. As soon as the dark clouds of Famine had scattered away from the horizons of Mizoram these members decided to transform a famine relief organization into a political organization known now as the ‘Mizo National Front (MNF)’ under the leadership of a Mizo ethnic extremist known as Laldenga (he was a former district council in Mizoram). Laldenga along with his clique were about to transgress into the realms of over ambition as they decided to use ‘Identity politics’ and ‘Public Dissatisfaction against the State Government’ as political instruments to realize their nefarious designs of complete secession from the Indian Federation.

Meanwhile the Assamese State Government of Congress party instead of checking this upcoming threat decided to appease them in order to counter their local political rivals in the same region known as the Mizo Union. Seeing this the MNF grew bolder in it’s audacity as it now openly called for the formation of a separate independent nation called as 'Greater Mizoram' across the whole North-Eastern region.

In addition of taking advantage of the Government’s shortcomings and a sense of cultural pride among Mizos , the MNF decided to accentuate the muddle of separatism even murkier as they now concocted an imaginary threat of the Hindu Cultural elements to the inhabitants of Mizoram who were in a Christian majority. The Communal angle was soon going to be complimented by their hidden agreements with the Pakistani authorities in the East-Pakistan (now Bangladesh) for giving armed and financial support to MNF in their struggle against India.

The State Government which was slowly waking up from their deep slumber saw matters going out of proportions and hence immediately ordered to mobilize an additional battalion of Assam Rifles to help in tackling the grave situation. Seeing this the MNF got its excuse of rebellion and on 1st March 1966 it officially declared a total political Independence from India and their armed militia geared up for armed resistance against the security forces of India.

Immediately the Government treasury was looted and several important administrative institutions were violently taken over by MNF’s cadres. The Mizo militia then attacked the heavily outnumbered local security forces that were brutally killed in cold blood everywhere. It was soon evident that most of Mizoram was in the control of MNF and it practically had been separated from India as the only flags fluttering over there were that of MNF.

Mrs. Indira Gandhi who now headed the Central Government stood shocked by such developments and decided to take the drastic action on 6th March 1966 by declaring this uprising as an unlawful act against the Indian Union. The Government immediately moved the Indian army into the region. Now the challenge before the army was to quell an armed rebellion of MNF which enjoyed mass public support along with the advantage of fighting on home terrain. Hence the army decided to operate in such a manner that the MNF becomes isolated from the Mizo civilian population.

With the political will behind them the army followed a ruthless policy of eliminating all the MNF militants and also to execute all those civilians who were actively aiding the violent separatist struggle. As the army had special directives for operations the standard procedure were replaced by emergency procedures while carrying on investigation and punishment of those who were caught red handed. Besides the villages that were openly supporting separation from India also had to face severe consequences from the administrative authorities who were beginning to resume their work in those regions. There were also controversial reports claiming that Indian Air Force bombarded the region infested with the militants in and around the Mizo cities such as Aizwal which caused a lot of damage to the civilian property, however the Government and the Air Force have dismissed such reports.

The compact geographical extent of Mizoram witnessing the battle compounded the collateral damage as many villages and innocent civilians became its prey. Although the Indian Army’s retaliation created waves of fear that rippled in the psyche of Mizo population but their anger began to vent out against the MNF. They felt that MNF’s immature and trigger happy initiation of a violent movement against the nation resulted in an equally opposite reciprocation by the Indian State. Their concocted propaganda against India and misguiding of the Mizos on ill conceived political planks were the subsequent cause of Indian army’s wrath on them.

Thus in the advent of loosing the popular support and simultaneously being annihilated by the might of Indian Army there began to grow divisions among the Mizo Leadership itself. They were beginning to understand that the idea of a separate Mizo nation was not feasible and its peaceful coexistence by being the part of the Indian Union was the only way for its peace and progress. The fundamentalist elements within the MNF quickly became a minority and the rest of them began peace talks with the Indian government. Soon the entire region of Mizoram was Re-integrated into the Indian Union which then subsequently was recognized by Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s government in 1972 as a Union Territory.

Thus the civil war was ended and the Indian Union was preserved. However the problem was far from being over as dormant voices of Mizo came up from time to time only to be quelled by Indian government’s diplomatic or limited military efforts. Today the state of Mizoram is quite peaceful as compared to its surrounding neighbor states however the violent struggle in 60’s was contagious enough to spark of similar ethnic separatist tendencies in the entire North-East region. However the problem could have been more catastrophic which was fortunately averted owing to the chivalry and resolve of the Indian Army backed by the decisive political will of Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

© 2010 Neelabh Chaturvedi .All Rights Reserved.

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