Aizawl: The little-known historical incident of Aizawl’s bombing in 1966, which had largely remained under the radar of the Indian public, came to the forefront when Prime Minister Narendra Modi unexpectedly raised the issue in the Indian Parliament on Thursday (August 10).
During his address to the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Parliament), Modi directed criticism towards the opposition Congress party, highlighting their governance record in the northeastern region.
This occurred within the context of a discussion on a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha. Modi specifically cited instances of violence that took place under Congress rule, illustrating his point with the example of Mizoram. In 1966, the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted a rare air raid on civilian territory within India in response to the Mizo National Front’s (MNF) separatist movement, which was countered by Operation Jericho.
“On 5th March 1966, Congress deployed its Air Force to attack the defenseless citizens of Mizoram. The Congress should explain whether this was the Air Force of another nation. Were the people of Mizoram not citizens of our own country? Was their security not the responsibility of the Government of India?” questioned Modi.
“Till today, Mizoram mourns the day of 5th March. They never tried to tend to those wounds. The Congress hid this truth from the country. Who was ruling then? Indira Gandhi,” he added.
The bombardment of Aizawl, an unprecedented event in India, aimed to suppress the Mizos Uprising of March 1966, spearheaded by the Mizo National Front. Suspicions that the MNF had received support from Pakistan and China prompted then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to resort to such extreme measures.
Reacting to Modi’s remarks, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted that PM Modi’s criticism of the ‘extraordinarily tough decision’ of March 1966 was pathetic. “His criticism of Indira Gandhi’s extraordinarily tough decision of March 1966 in Mizoram to deal with secessionist forces that drew support from Pakistan and China was particularly pathetic,” Jairam Ramesh wrote.
“She saved Mizoram, started negotiations with those fighting the Indian state and finally a Peace Accord was signed on June 30, 1986. The manner in which the Accord came about is a remarkable story that reinforces the idea of India in Mizoram today,” the Congress leader wrote.
“Anyone who takes their role as Prime Minister with full responsibility of the incredibly tough decisions one needs to make in that chair would never have said this,” Jairam Ramesh added.
Meanwhile, Mizoram Pradesh Congress spokesperson Dr Lallianchhunga also accused Modi of trying to divert the Manipur violence.
“PM Modi’s comment on 1966 event was an unbalanced political narrative, a complete misunderstanding of India’s position on secessionist movements in particular. Why did PM Modi try to hide the fact that, in Manipur many Churches have been burned to the ground, the Manipur BJP Govt sponsored ethnic cleansing is happening day and night,” he said.
He added that Narendra Modi is “running away from real issues”.
“Manipur is burning for more than 100 days and while the unity and integrity of India is at stake, the PM of India deliberately avoids to properly addressing Manipur issue inside and outside the Parliament. His comments on 1966 event was a deliberate attempt to divert Manipur crises in which Prime Minister Modi is afraid to take up responsibility as the head of the Indian government,” Dr Lallianchhunga said.
The bombardment of Aizawl
By March 5, 1966, the Mizo rebels had executed a series of successful attacks on Assam Rifles and BSF positions in the region. Armed with determination, they launched simultaneous assaults on these positions and eventually took control of Aizawl, where looting of arms, ammunition, and government treasury funds ensued.
The bombing of Mizo rebel positions around Aizawl took place as the Army struggled to dislodge them from their strongholds, resulting in the halt of 8 Sikh and 2 Para’s advance. The aerial assault proved pivotal in helping the Army regain dominion over vast areas that had fallen under rebel control and been declared independent.
This bombardment, occurring just five days after Laldenga-led Mizo National Front’s declaration of ‘Mizoram Independence,’ transformed the once-beautiful hill town into a scene of devastation. Historians argue that it was then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s anxious endeavor to suppress the nascent insurgency in Mizoram.
“Numerous insurgencies have emerged in India where rebels took up arms against the Indian Union, yet the Mizos were the only Indians subjected to bombing by their own government. Such a horrific event cannot be minimized. The truth is known to India and the people of Mizoram,” expressed MNF adviser and minister Lalruatkima.
“India should have compensated us; it should have extended an apology for the egregious crime it committed,” Lalruatkima emphasized.
Mizo historian Prof J V Hluna recollects how Indira Gandhi veiled the actual events unfolding in Mizoram, which was then a district within Assam. When pressed by the media, Gandhi purportedly asserted that ration supplies were dropped in the Lushai Hills.
To this day, questions persist regarding the necessity of utilising excessive air force against the country’s own citizens to quell an insurgency. Intriguingly, it wasn’t until 1968, after the events of 1966, that the Mizo National Front was officially banned.
According to J V Hluna, in the aftermath of the Aizawl air raids, two Assam MLAs, Stanley DD Nichols Roy and Hoover H Hynniewta, visited Mizoram (then part of Assam) to witness the aftermath. The scene’s impact prompted Nichols Roy to present a motion in the Assam House concerning the Aizawl air attack in April.
In his book, ‘Debates on Mizo Problems on Insurgencies, with special reference to the contributions of Stanley DD Nichols Roy, MLA and Hoover H Hynniewta, MLA,’ Hluna documented a spirited debate in the House about the Mizo issue. Nichols Roy referred to a statement by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, published on March 9, 1966, in the now-defunct Hindusthan Standard, where she insisted that the air force had been “deployed to drop men and supplies.”
In fervent opposition to the air force’s usage, the other MLA, Hynniewta, provided evidence of the Aizawl air attack, including photographs of an unexploded bomb and fragments of exploded ones. Despite these claims, the Government of India vehemently denied their authenticity.
Since 2008, the Mizoram Zirlai Pawl (MZP) has observed March 5 as Zoram Ni or Zoram Day. This commemoration seeks to rekindle the flames of self-determination and emphasise the significance of sacrifice among the younger generation.