The historic Mizoram Accord completed 36 years on 30 June 2022. 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”. 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 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.
The manner in which the authorities handled the famine left the Mizos disillusioned, and soon secessionist feelings began to run 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.
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 and also aided the morale of MNF.
But, after years of insurgency, MNF — despite aid from anti-India forces — 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 has failed to not only utilise the offer of the former insurgent leader, but also to exhibit the success of the Mizoram Accord.
However, 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 Chief Minister of Mizoram, Zoramthanga 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 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 a 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 in recent years, is about the use of the Indian Air Force against the MNF during the insurgency. 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. Zoramthanga, the Chief Minister of Mizoram, once said that the main reason he joined the MNF and became a rebel was the “relentless bombing of Aizawl in 1966”.
Although there is no official estimate of the human casualties during the air raids on Aizawl, anecdotal reports are of the opinion that at least 20 people were killed in the attacks. On 5 May 2022, Lalruatkima, Minister for information and rural development, addressed an event organised by Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Mizoram’s apex students’ body in Aizawl to mark the 56th anniversary of the infamous air raids on Aizawl. 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 Toofani and Hunter fighter jets were used against MNF insurgents, who had laid a siege of the Assam Rifles garrison in Aizawl on 5 March 1966. It is imperative, therefore, that the feeling of alienation is not allowed to grow. Correct regret for an 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.
The author is a noted conflict analyst and author of several best-selling books on security and strategy. Views expressed are personal.