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Mizo Accord turns 37 years

 

Former cadres of MNF pose for camera with minister K Lalrinliana at Kolasib during celebration of Remna ni on June 30, 2023.

Remna Ni (Peace Day) was joyously observed throughout Mizoram on Friday, June 30,  in commemoration of the 37th anniversary of the historic Mizo Accord of 1986. Festivities took place in all district headquarters, with ministers attending as chief guests.

The Mizo Accord, signed between the Indian Government and the then-outlawed Mizo National Front 37 years ago today, brought an end to two decades of violent insurgency in Mizoram.

The main event at Vanapa Hall was graced by Chief Minister and MNF president Zoramthanga, who said that Mizoram has a lasting peace that sets it apart from other states.

“While Mizoram may not yet match the level of development seen in other states, its peaceful environment is a source of envy for those states,” said the former rebel leader turned politician.

“Situated in the remote northeastern region of India, Mizoram serves as a sanctuary for individuals residing in neighboring states and countries affected by turmoil. Since 2021, thousands of individuals from Myanmar have sought refuge in Mizoram, and there are also refugees from Bangladesh. Moreover, Mizoram is currently providing shelter to hundreds of internally displaced persons from Manipur,” Zoramthanga added.

Zoramthanga also talked about the concept of Greater Mizoram, which entails the integration of all Mizo-inhabited regions across India and Myanmar—a demand initially advocated by the MNF when it launched an independence movement.

“In a recent telephonic conversation with Manipur’s Chief Minister N Biren Singh, I took the opportunity to highlight that the idea of Greater Mizoram was put forth by the MNF even before 1961,  that it is not a recent development,” he said.

Zoramthanga, then a fresh graduate in English from DM college in Imphal, joined the MNF in 1965, one year before the MNF took up arms against the India Union to fight for sovereignty of the Mizos. The MNF president, Laldenga, engaged him as his secretary. He held this job for seven years. In 1979, he was given the responsibility of the Vice President.

In the morning, a Peace Walk was organised from Chanmari junction to Vanapa Hall which was addressed by information & public relations minister Lalruatkima.

Peace walk, cleanliness drive, free medical camp, blood donation camp, inter high school quiz, inter higher secondary school essay writing competition leh short video, photography and painting competition were organised as part of celebration of Remna Ni.

What Happened on June 30, 1986?

An iconic photo of the signing of the Mizo Accord on June 30, 1986.

June 30 thirty-three years was a day of euphoria with the return of the much-needed peace in the land of the Mizos. On that day, the four-page Mizoram peace accord was signed in New Delhi under former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The then Union home secretary R.D. Pradhan, Mizo National Front (MNF) chief Laldenga, who is no more, and the former chief secretary of the Mizoram government, Lalkhama, put their initials on the document.

On February 28, 1966, Laldenga, a former clerk in the district council, and his followers heralded an insurgency that for long 20 years kept the Mizos under a wrap of fear and anxiety.

As India tried to crush the movement for ‘sovereignty of Mizoram’ with strong-arm polocy by sending in huge number of the Indian army, the state was plunged into chaos and unspeakable sufferings of the innocent civilians.
Out of a total of 764 villages in Mizoram at that time, about 516 villages were evacuated and regrouped into 110 Grouping Centres to fish out the MNF cadres.
The church leaders initiated brokering peace at the initial stage of the insurgency, which was rejected by the underground MNF and the government outright.
However, peace initiatives began in earnest in 1976 which resulted in the siging of the peace accord and deposit of arms by the underground cadres who came overground.
The memorandum of settlement or the peace accord was signed on the night of June 30, 1986 between the then Union Home Secretary R.D. Pradhan, MNF president Laldenga and then Chief Secretary of Mizoram Lalkhama in the presence of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Since then, Mizoram became one of the most peaceful states in the country.

The Long Road to Peace

The path to peace between the Church, intelligence emissaries, and Laldenga was filled with numerous intricate and unpredictable turns. One significant milestone occurred in 1971 when Zairema, a respected elder within the Church, took the initiative to establish contact with Laldenga, who was residing in exile with his followers in East Pakistan. Zairema extended an olive branch, paving the way for a meeting between the Central government and the MNF, with the shared goal of fostering peace.

Next, the intelligence agencies, particularly the RAW and the Intelligence Bureau, came to the fore in a mission to make Laldenga aware that his rebellion would end in a futile exercise.

A senior RAW official, S Hasanwalia, met Laldenga in Zurich in 1975, to sell him the idea of peace talks. From then on, the peace bandwagon began to move on along a distinctly neat course, that culminated in the historic peace accord in 1986.

A Presbyterian Church leader said, “The peace accord of 1986 and the subsequent urge to keep up the spirit of the peace in Mizoram are now the two important mosaics for the lasting peace in this tiny, serene and green state.”             

To provide context for the Peace Accord and its significance in catalyzing the development process, it is worthwhile to delve into its background. Notably, the initial peace initiative recorded was the dispatch of two high-ranking intelligence officers by the MNF in the midst of 1969, approximately three years after the insurgency commenced. This move, seemingly undertaken independently by the MNF President, Laldenga, came to the attention of his cabinet colleagues only when the Indian Army apprehended the two officers on July 5, 1969, in Karimganj, Assam. Hence, a brief examination of this historical event sheds light on the series of events that ultimately led to the Peace Accord.

The noteworthy event took place in the form of a now-renowned letter written by Laldenga to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on August 20, 1975. This letter served as tangible evidence of regular communication between the Indian authorities and the emissaries of the MNF since the latter part of 1973. Its significance lies in the fact that it explicitly outlined three crucial points: Firstly, the MNF leader expressed his willingness to seek a resolution to the Mizo problem within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Secondly, he admitted that his senior colleagues had not been informed of this stance and would require persuasion. Lastly, he appealed for the assistance of the Indian authorities in convincing his colleagues to support the proposed solution. Thus, the letter played a pivotal role in clarifying Laldenga’s position and highlighting the collaborative efforts required for progress.            

Besides the potential personal motives of the MNF leader in initiating the peace process at that particular juncture, it would have been challenging to disregard the immense pressure from public opinion, which overwhelmingly advocated for peace. This collective sentiment was championed by the Church, political parties—especially the Indian National Congress—and various NGOs. As a result of his independent initiative, the MNF leader found himself with limited or virtually no bargaining power during the peace negotiations. The subsequent lengthy and complex peace discussions, as well as the reasons behind the prolonged duration of the Peace Accord, extend beyond the scope of this paper. However, given the profound sufferings endured by innocent people as a consequence of the insurgency and counter-operations by security forces, these aspects remain pertinent subjects worthy of comprehensive research.

As for the Accord, except for providing to cover the “revenue gap” of the state for 1986-87, it does not contain any provisions that could significantly accelerate the process of development. The Memorandum of Settlement is essentially concerned with the conferment of statehood to Mizoram and the attendant legal and administrative questions. Even the status of statehood, according to the first Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Mizoram, the late Ch. Chhunga, was “available” for the asking in 1971, the year in which North Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act was passed and a decision to confer statehood to Meghalaya and Tripura was arrived at. He said, “Since our underground brothers would have nothing but a statehood to bring home eventually, we left it for them to bring it home. We had thus to be content with the status of Union Territory”. The statement could have perhaps been an exaggerated interpretation of the apparent willingness of the government of India then to accommodate the demand for statehood, provided that would lead to the end of insurgency in Mizoram. At any rate, the peace of mind that the cessation of insurgency brought to the people appeared to be enough of a bonus by itself.

The actual provisions of the Peace Accord notwithstanding, the central government had clearly intended to help develop Mizoram as a model state in the Northeast, once peace could be somehow put in place there. The objective was to demonstrate that “peace pays” by helping the newly peaceful Mizoram generate development to the extent that it would become worthy example for other insurgent groups, a catalyst for peace, as it were, in the whole region. “Let there be cessation of insurgency first, then we shall see the rest,” so the argument went. The actions taken by the central government immediately upon the conclusion of the Accord amply demonstrated this attitude.

Just a week after the signing of the Accord, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and family, Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka and Rahul, visited Mizoram for four days from 9 to 12 July 1986, an unusually long and intimate visit by a head of government to a tiny state like Mizoram. The PM personally drove to the southern, eastern and northern fringes of Mizoram. He also convened on 11 July a meeting of all Chief Ministers of the Northeast States and Union Territories in Aizawl to assess the impact of the Mizoram accord and consider measures to curb insurgency in the region. And at the end of the visit, he declared that, if peace held, he would turn Mizoram into ‘a land of milk and honey’.

Then, in early August 1986, a team of eight central Ministers, accompanied by concerned senior officials in their respective ministries, headed by N. D. Tiwari, Minister of External Affairs, came to Aizawl with the express purpose of helping Mizoram to formulate a master plan for development. The team apparently found the Mizoram government unprepared for meaningful interaction, perhaps, because it was still in transition from a status of Union Territory to full statehood. “They were surprised at the visit and were totally at a loss as to what to suggest to such a powerful team,” was how one participant from Delhi put it. After sanctioning a few pending project proposals, the central team had to return to Delhi without carrying back with them any far reaching ideas about the development of Mizoram.

Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his wife Sonia during their historic tour of Mizoram in the aftermath of the signing of the peace accord.

 
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