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Mizoram: Peace in peril
April 11, 2007
Mizoram has the tag of being the most peaceful state in the North East. But this has not made Mizoram peaceful, nor self sufficient. However, the tag remains and mints money for the state. Even if Mizoram finds enough reasons to celebrate that, it should rethink what the state is doing or going through.
The opposition Congress has been accusing the Mizo National Front-led government of harbouring and sheltering all sorts of armed groups in the state. The local media have also been raising the issue every now and then. Those are not new, nor sudden. But the inherited image of being peaceful, overshadowed the fact that peace is actually in pieces.
While the state basked in the fading tag, the pieces gnawed the thin blanket that heaped the peace bonus. The telling truth has put Chief Minister Zoramthanga and his government on the defensive. The situation has already reached a point where it cannot just be saved by explanations. It may burst into the open anytime.
Once that happens, the state is certain to grope amidst the shambles to adjust, pacify, and accommodate the Frankenstein monsters it has raised.
The opposition parties strongly came out against the MNF government in a rally on April 3 under the banner 'Chhanchhuahna Kawngzawh' (March for Salavation) at Aizawl. Zoramthanga was called 'not normal' by the Zoram Nationalist Party chief, Lalduhoma. Lalduhoma also accused the MNF government for failing to make Mizoram a 'self sufficient state'. The government was blamed for its 'policy less government' by the Congress leader and ex-Chief Minister Lalthanhawla. Brigadier T Sailo, former chief minister and state Congress president, also said the MNF led government in Mizoram should be 'ashamed' of the repeated 'revelations of underground nexus and resign on moral grounds'.
It would be severely downplaying a grim situation if the rally was to be interpreted merely as a political exercise. With many identity and sub-identity movements and assertions swarming the state, the accusations must be taken seriously. Recently, six cadres belonging to the Hmar National Army were killed at Tinghmun, which was immediately followed by Congress legislator, Lalzirliana accusing the government, particularly the home department of Mizoram, of having gifted 12 AK 47 assault rifles to an insurgent group in January 2007. The legislator went to the extent of mentioning the registration number of the vehicle that was used to transport the arms. The elected representative was issued dire warnings by the armed group. Moreover, there were allegations that Zoramthanga received support from an armed group during the 2003 assembly elections.
Mizoram seems to have suddenly woken to the lesson of learning to live with a brokered peace. Is the state peaceful because several armed groups that the MNF government is alleged to be harbouring are under control? What would the state be if any succeeding government did not maintain that thread? Is Zoramthanga architecting a win-win situation for himself by banking on armed groups for securing political fights?
Newslinks, the leading English daily from Mizoram, in an editorial said the MNF, through Zoramthanga, had close contacts with insurgents from the North East as well as those from Myanmar, which it said, 'is a known fact'. The MNF has also not denied this but came up with the excuse of 'facilitating dialogue' to bring underground elements overground.
But when the government could not establish a 'self-sufficient' economy, its selfless efforts to facilitate dialogue by allowing armed actors in the state seems too big a task at the moment. In the absence of a sound economy, further threatened by threats of famine, the attempt is being seen as unnecessary. This is more so when some of the groups in the 'dialogue' did not belong to Mizoram.
If Zoramthanga is 'facilitating dialogue' with the various armed groups without the knowledge of the government at the Centre, it would serve no one's interest. He needs to keep the Centre informed of the dialogue and also of the demands of the armed groups. For the armed groups in the North East, Zoramthaga or any MNF leader would be the last choice to act as their mediator. Therefore, it is doing more harm than good if Zoramthanga is using them to establish his political playground.
The attempt to be a champion of peace merely because his neighbours are declared 'disturbed' is not a valid reason for the mission. MNF, once a separatist group demanding sovereignty and now feeding on central grants, is a rather telling example of a power hungry group. The MNF's separatist antecedents are not enough for the armed groups to think that the MNF-led government will uphold their interest.
There is also the fact that the Mizoram public fails to understand Zoramthanga's extra attempt to be the peacemaker. These efforts seem to have bred many armed actors within the state. Finding a safe valve for them would be Mizoram's burden soon.
On the other hand, historically Mizoram's efforts at peacemaking have been half-baked. The accords it has signed with various armed groups are still awaiting solutions. Assam, Manipur and Nagaland have fared better in that respect despite the numerous movements, conflicts and unrest they confront.
If this is how peace is to be moulded, Zoramthanga is not the potter. Everyone knows the peace he has brokered is in peril.
David Buhril, a native of the North East, is a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.