History of Secessionist Movements In Mizoram

Biswaranjan Dash

Till the middle of the 19th century, the outside world knew very little about the Mizoram. Mizoram was annexed to British Colony in March 1890. Before the British advent into Mizoram, it was an independent tribal land divided into small numerous villages ruled by Lals or Chiefs in consultation with the Council of elders or Upas guided by Lushai Custom. But after their arrival, the Britishers followed the policy of non-interference in the internal village administration and made the Chiefs their representatives. Between1890-1946, practically, there was no political activity in Mizoram. In those days, the British Superintendent ruled in accordance with the British administrative policy. Neither the Mizo Chiefs nor the Britishers made any attempt towards the upliftment of the Mizos. But the, Christian Missionaries helped in the emergence of a new educated class which articulated the resentment of the people against the activities of the Chiefs, perceived as against the British authority. This resentment against the Chiefs continued even after the Britisher left India. After Indian independence, they (an emerging new educated Mizo class) were thinking of separation from India because of a sense of uncertainty and apprehension about their political future. The 1959 Mautam Famine which ultimately resulted in armed revolt by a section of disgruntled Mizos against the Government of India finally brought secessionist movement to an end on 30th June 1986 through historic memorandum of settlement between Government of India and Laldenga , President Mizo National Front.

Keywords : Secession, Movements, Mizoram.

    Before the British advent into Mizoram in 1890, it was an independent tribal land divided into small numerous villages ruled by Lals or Chiefs. There were 60 Lals (Chiefs), having independent status and a form of polity for maintenance of internal stability and meeting external threats, discharged their functions in consultation with the council of elders or Upas selected or nominated by them. They were guided entirely by Lushai Custom. Their mode of government may be said to be a democracy by arrangement(Ray, 1982, pp.30-31). The Lushai Chiefs had enjoyed a number of privileges and rights. The first known chief was Zahmuaka whose descendants ruled over vast areas of hills.

    Very little was known about Mizoram and Mizo Chiefs to the outside world till the middle of the 19th century (Thanga,1978, p.XII). But their raids, in the plains of Cachar, Sylhet and Chittagong Hill Tracts which were under the control of British for hunting wild animals, particularly when the kings were weak and imbecile, invited a series of British military expeditions of 1871-1872; 1878 and 1889-1890 , and ultimately Lushai Hills area was annexed as British Colony in March 1890 (Reid,1978,p.32).

    The British followed the policy of non-interference in the internal administration of the villages and the Chiefs were given responsibility to maintain internal administration. The Chiefs were made the representatives of the British Government.

    Between1890-1946, particularly, there was no political activity in Mizoram. This was the period of British occupation in Mizoram. In those days, the British Superintendent ruled in accordance with the British administrative policy. The British decided not to spend a large amount of money in Mizoram. The only thing they wanted to ensure was to prevent recurrence of armed raids on their tea gardens. They took full advantage of the fact that Mizos were very loyal to their Lals while keeping them firmly under their Control. It was a sound policy for keeping the Lals in their positions without interfering in latter’s internal administration.

    On the other hand, the Lals did nothing for the betterment of their people rather some of them misused their rights and powers. British also did not attempt to go for the uplift of the Mizos. No attempt was made for establishing a sound economic, political and educational system. British did not encourage even marginal political participation of Mizos, which they allowed in other parts of India under various Acts.

    But in the meantime, Christian Missionaries tried to spread education and religion as a result of which people not only got educated but also had the access to outside their area. They started learning the art of democracy. So a new class emerged in the Lushai against the activities of the Chiefs.

    The resentment of the people against the Chiefs led to the birth of a political party, that is Mizo Union. Mizo Union emerged with definitive objective of improving the condition of the common people and establishing good relation between the Chiefs and the people. It also aimed at democratizing the machinery of administration of the villages.

    The Mizo Union demanded that a Chief should rule the village not through the elders or Upas, appointed by him but elected by the people. However, after sometime, the Mizo Union having not satisfied with this demand, appealed further to the British authority for the abolition of Chieftainship, which however came to end in 1954 i.e. after India’s independence and commencement of its Constitution (Lalchungnunga, 1994, p.39; Prasad and Agrawal, 1991, p.130).

    But the British regarded the resentment against the Chiefs as opposition to the British authority. On the other hand, the Mizo Union aroused the feeling of the people against the Chiefs. With the initiation of the Mizo Union, people went to the extent of damaging the gardens of the Chiefs and their supporters, and also stoned their houses as well. However, the British Government supported the prevailing system of administration of the village by the Chiefs. Thus, arose conflict between the Mizo Union and the Chiefs, respectively backed by the common people and the British authority. And this conflict continued even after the end of the British rule in India.

    Before, and even after the commencement of the Indian Constitution, a sense of uncertainty and apprehension about their political future gripped the minds of the educated leaders of the Lushai Hills. It was a fact that during this period, Lushais aspired for better. Truly speaking, they were thinking in terms of Separation from India. The Mizo Union and other organizations like Mizo Hmeichhe Association and Ex-Serviceman Association demanded as widest autonomy as possible for the Lushai Hills.

    Moreover, people of Mizoram alleged that the Indian Politicians cared very little about Mizoram. They never paid visit to the area in order to appraise themselves of the political problems in that part of the country. Only the Constituent Assembly’s sub-committee, under the chairmanship of the late Gopinath Bordoloi, the then Prime Minister of Assam, visited Mizoram on the eve of India’s independence. When this sub-committee visited Mizoram, the inexperienced, ignorant and young politicians of the area were quite at a loss to answer questions properly. Consequent upon the British departure from Mizoram, a great political vacuum prevailed in Mizoram. None of the then Mizo politicians grasped the political reality properly and clearly knew what they wanted. This was not surprising, because the Mizos were kept in the darkness in the realm of politics. Besides, none of the Indian politicians attempted to infuse political awareness and the spirit of national integration among the Mizos in the larger interests of the country.

    However, succumbing to the demand of Mizo people, Lushai Hills District Council was created in 1952 along with the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Garo Hills, Naga Hills, North Cachar and Mikir Hills as provided under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. Thus to some extent, the aspiration of the people for political power was fulfilled.

    The institution of the District Council was a completely new and untried experience for both the district and the state (Assam) political class, and the going was rather difficult and unsteady during the initial period. The District Council started functioning with twenty members, 18 elected and the rest nominated. The members of the district Council were elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.

    The District Council, which was dominated by the Mizo Union abolished the institution of Chieftainship and in its place, created democratically elected body, that is, village council in the villages.* The District Council, however, within a decade, came into criticism due to its limited role. People became dissatisfied with the working of the District Council due to lack of adequate financial power, and therefore demanded a separate state within the Indian Union.

    In 1959, there was famine called Mautam , which ultimately resulted in armed revolt by a section of disgruntled Mizos against the Government of India. This famine is a phenomenon occurring at the interval of every fifty years following the flowering of bamboos and incredibly high proliferation of rodents, which swarm the jhum (Shifting Cultivation) and devoured all the crops. It results in a widespread famine. However people felt that the Assam government did not pay adequate assistance to the district. Many voluntary organizations were thus formed to alleviate the distress of the people. One of such organizations was the Mizo National Famine Front (MNFF) which turned itself into Mizo National Front (MNF) in 1961, with the objective of attaining independence and sovereignty for the greater Mizoram (Heralding Mizoram State, Aizawl: Information, Public Relations and Tourism, 1987, p.4), reuniting all the Mizo people living in the contiguous areas, improving the social, economic and political conditions of the Mizos, safeguarding/promoting Christianity, planning a long term strategy for violent movement to achieve its aims and acquiring dependable source of support of some foreign countries (Prasad and Agrawal,1991,p.93). The tail end of the party’s aim yelled out “Mizoram for the Mizos”. Laldenga and R. Vanlawma were its first elected president and general secretary respectively. A. Rohuna was the joint secretary of the party. The MNF under the leadership of Laldenga proved the harbinger of future political organization and upheaval. It was, thus, the most vociferous of all groups, organized on military lines and secessionist tendencies. The promise of independence made by the MNF roused the nationalism in the Mizos.

    Laldenga, the leader of the Mizo Nation Front (MNF) and brain behind organizing the Mizo National Army (MNA), a fighting wing of the MNF, hails from Pupui village, 5 miles North of Lunglei town. He had passed Middle English Examination and served as Lower Primary School teacher under the control of missionaries. During the Second World War, he joined the Army and became a Havaldar Clerk. After independence of India, he joined as an accountant of the Mizo District Council. It is said that he was associated from the beginning with the right wing Mizo Union. He always harped on secession of Mizoram from India. As an Army clerk, he had moved around various places in India and it is alleged that he had developed a feeling of hatred towards Indians. He was a devoted Christian and had the habit of attending the Church services regularly. He is an excellent orator and after becoming President of MNF traveled throughout the district. His speeches were so touchy, ambitious and full of hopes that many a times, the rural people considered him as a messenger of God. In 1970, I was told that many rural people saw him in their dreams. He could thus muster a good number of following from rural as well as urban areas. His conception of nation was narrow and localistic. According to him, the Mizos and the other Hill tribes of Assam never considered themselves as Indians. He popularized the word Vai (outsiders) with derogatory undertone. He highlighted that the Mizos belonged to a separate nation different from that of the Vais and therefore should have a political right for self-determination. Laldenga, added further that the Mizo people ‘joined India’ with a clear understanding that after 10 years they would decide about their future. The Joint Secretary of the MNF was at one time the founder of the Mizo Union. He used to support him. Laldenga in his speeches to the young men and MNF volunteers used to say ‘now is the time to decide the future of the Mizo Nation’.

    Initially, the MNF and its leaders tried to achieve their target of sovereign independent state for the Mizo Hills through peaceful and non-violent Gandhian means, as promised by them to the people and the assurance given to the central government as well as to the government of Assam. The MNF submitted a memorandum to the Pataskar Commission on the Hill areas and to the Prime Minister in 1965 demanding sovereign independent state for the Mizo Hills. But at the same timeit was preparing for an armed revolt/conflict. Nothing tangible emerged from the meeting and discussion with the central leaders and the government of Assam due to the hardening of attitude on both sides. The MNF leaders, thus frustrated in their efforts to get independence by non-violent means, resorted to violent methods similar to those followed by the Naga insurgents. In this way, the perversity of a small section of Mizos coupled with their political ambition became the starting point of a baneful story of strife, suffering and turmoil (Ibid, p.96).

    The MNF insurgency broke out on the midnight of 28 February 1966. The party resorted to acts of lawlessness, violence, attacks and killings at many important places in the district. The MNF declared of independence on 1 march 1966. The declaration of independence gave surprise to the state and central leadership. Laldenga appealed for external help. The government of India adopted military measures to counter the menace of the grave anti-national activity. The Army troops were dispatched to the territory in aid of the civil power. On March 2, 1966, the whole district was declared as a disturbed area under the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 by the Government of Assam. This Act of 1955 along with the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) special Power Act, 1958 was also in force in the area. The Government of India on 6 March 1966 declared the MNF as an unlawful organization and also banned it under the Defence of India Rules. Though, there was no declaration of martial law at all, yet the government entrusted the responsibility of law and order in the district to the army and issued strict instructions that the army was not to fight with an enemy power. Despite all this, the MNF leaders remained adamant. They did not desist from the demands of independence. They persisted in subversive and violent activities and continued all sorts of atrocities in Mizoram. The MNF’s parallel government also continued functioning. On the other hand, the security forces maintained their strong pressures as well as intensified operations in all the sectors of Mizoram with a view to driving out the MNF rebels from their hideouts and meeting all threats posed by the MNF. Thus, the MNF insurgency, counter insurgency measure and pacification went on simultaneously.

    In order to tackle the political unrest in Mizoram, the Government of India tried to appease the local population and to fulfill longstanding demand for autonomy by enacting the North Eastern Re-organization Act 1971, as a result of which, the Mizo Hills District was elevated to the status of Union Territory on 21 January 1972 and popular government was formed. The Mizo Hills District Council was abolished in 1972 and Mizoram was divided into three districts, namely- Aizawl District, Lunglei District and Chhintuipui District. The Pawi-Lakher Regional Council was trifurcated in Pawi, Lakher and Chakma District Councils. The MNF, was later split into two groups - moderates/intellectuals and extremists which confused the rank and file of the MNF. Besides this, most intellectuals surrendered. Both the split in the MNF and the creation/provision of social welfare services by the counter insurgency forces caused surrenders in large number periodically. The continued political consciousness and a realization among Mizos about the futility of MNF movement discouraged the anti-nationalist forces and raised the MNF’s frustration at its waning influence in Mizoram. The surrenders gave crippling blows to the MNF, kept them in complete disarray and shattered their morale. Simultaneously the concentrated efforts on development activities and social welfare measures were going to create a stake in peaceful conditions in the minds of the Mizo people (Ibid, pp.96-97).

    The MNF insurgency and security operations continued despite frequent peace talks/meetings between the Govt. of India and the MNF leaders. Later the Home Secretary, Govt. of India and the MNF chief, Laldenga signed the Peace Accord on 1st July 1976 closing the bitter chapters of hardship and sufferings caused by the MNF hostilities since March 1966. But this July Peace Accord could not be materialized due to change of central government in 1977 and also due to rift, internal squabbles and contradictions within MNF even though Janata Party in power restarted the talks for implementation. As a result, the talks were called off in March 1978. The MNF stepped up their hostile activities all over the territory. The attacks were mostly on security forces, civil officials and non-Mizos. The central government viewed fresh spurt of violence and killings seriously. So the MNF and its allied organizations were declared unlawful. Laldenga was arrested on 8th July 1979.

    On the request of Mizoram Pradesh Congress (1) leaders, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi resumed peace talk with the MNF, withdrawing all the pending cases and charges against Laldenga on 30th June 1980. But it failed, because of sharp differences on some of the demands such as constitution for the state with safeguards similar to one in Jammu and Kashmir, and constitution of greater Mizoram including Mizo inhabited areas. The central government agreeing to elevate the union territory to the statehood of Mizoram with certain constitutional safeguards, made clear to the MNF that issues, which were possible without their repercussion on the other groups would be met in course of discussion. Even then the peace talks broke off. The MNF and its armed wing Mizo National Army were banned on 20th January, 1982. The MNF Chief Laldenga left Delhi for London in April, 1982. Peace and progress for which Mizo people had been longing for a long time became casualties in the atmosphere of revived violence, killings and indiscriminate harassment. The hostile operatives by the MNF insurgents and the counter operatives by the security forces/police continued and consequently, common people suffered a lot. With the coming of the People’s Conference Government led by Brig. Sailo in Mizoram, law and order situation continued deteriorating due to mutual distrust.

    The Congress party, which came to power in 1984 mediated between the central government and Laldenga who was called back from London to Delhi on 29 th October 1984. The peace talks were resumed between the central government and the MNF chief Laldenga on 17th December 1984. Operations by the MNF insurgents and the security forces remained suspended in order to facilitate settlement. Laldenga had a series of discussions on various issues with the central officials, leaders and finally with the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. As a consequence, the historic memorandum of settlement to ensure permanent peace and harmony in Mizoram was signed on 30th June, 1986 by R.D. Pradhan, the Home Secretary, Government of India, Laldenga, President, Mizo National Front and the Chief Secretary (Representative of the Government of Mizoram) . The Peace Accord as it is commonly known was clinched both at the official (Govt. level) , the non-official and Political (Party) levels (Ibid, pp.97-98). The memorandum of settlement incorporated some of the important issues. The MNF agreed to end all underground activities, bring out all underground MNF personnel with their arms to civil life and to abjure violence within stipulated time frame. The MNF further agreed to delete its objectives of “independence and secession of Mizoram from the Union of India” from its Constitution in order to ensure its consent for working within the constitutional framework of India. The Government of India, on the other hand, agreed to get the underground MNF personnel coming over ground resettled and rehabilitated. The Government also agreed to confer statehood on the Union Territory of Mizoram with certain safeguards to fulfill the desires and aspirations of Mizo people. After the memorandum of settlement was signed, the Government of India and the MNF took steps for smooth implementation the historic peace accord. The underground MNF and MNA rebels surrendered with arms and ammunitions. The MNF amended its Constitution by deleting the organization’s main objective of ‘Independent Mizoram’ and other objectionable provisions to conform to the laws of land. The Government of India ,on its part, lifted the ban on MNF. The Central Government with a view to grant statehood to Mizoram introduced the Mizoram Statehood Bill, 1986 with special safeguards and provisions of forty (40) seats in the Legislative Assembly. It was introduced as the 53rd Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 1986 in the Parliament and was passed by an absolute majority of votes. The President also assented to the Mizoram Statehood Bill 1986 on 14th August 1986. But on 20th February 1987 Mizoram formally came up as a full-fledged state of the Union of India (Ibid, pp.98-99).

Notes

THE LUSHAI HILLS DISTRICT (VILLAGE COUNCILS)
ACTS, 1953

 (As adapted and amended up to date)

No. TAD/R/61/52-In pursuance of paragraph 11 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India, the following Act of the Lushai Hills District Council, which received the assent of the Governor of Assam, is hereby published for general information.

LUSHAI HILLS ACT NO. OF 1953(The Lushai Hills District (Village Councils) Act, 1953)
(Passed by the Lushai Hills District Council)
(Received the assent of the Governor of Assam on the 19th November, 1953)
(Published in the Assam Gazette, dated the 9th December, 1953)

    There shall be a Village Council Comprising one or more villages as the (State Government) may by notification in the Mizoram Gazette, decide to be composed in the manner here in after provided in section (2)]
    “Provided that a village once notified as a constituent of a Village Council is liable to be denotified at any time if the Village becomes vacant as a result of mass migration of the villagers or if a situation arises demanding such action for a reasonable ground of administrative, developmental or security reasons as the Government may decide.”
    [(2)] Number of Members of Village Council - A Village Council shall be composed of members according to the number of houses it contains as specified below :

    “(i) For Village not exceeding 200 houses, there shall be 3 (three) members;
    (ii) For Village with more than 200 houses, but not exceeding 500 houses, there shall be 4 (four) members;
    (iii) For Village with more than 500 houses, but not exceeding 800 houses, there shall be 5 (five) members;
    (iv) For Village with more than 800 houses, there shall be 6 (six) members.
(As amended in 2006, see page 31)

References


Lecturer, Department of Political Science,Umshyrpi College, Laban, Shillong-4