The Mizo National Front (MNF)

Indian politics is a like a smoking cauldron filled with varied interests and a successful leader as far as India is concerned is a leader who manages to keep a lid on the cauldron. To borrow a phrase from the arthashastra, a successful leader is a leader who manages to keep the nation intact.

In order to understand Indian politics we not only have to look at the two major parties, Congress and the BJP, but we also need to take a look at the smaller regional communal parties to try and understand their concerns. Communalism remains one of India’s most pressing problems and it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Even today the Kuki National Army, though there is a long standing ceasefire agreement with the Indian army, is asking for a separate state and it is an example of how ethnic aspirations, if unaddressed, can divide a nation.

Mizoram was a British colony and post the independence of India in 1947, the state was given a choice of being either a part of India, Pakistan or Burma and subsequently chose to join India and became a district of Assam.

The Mizo National Front (MNF) which spearheaded the move for a separate state was formed in 1966 but its roots date back at least 11 years earlier and it evolved from the Mizo Cultural Society which was an organization that was established to advocate for Mizo rights. The most pressing problems at that stage were communal problems but that was superseded by the mautam famine of 1959-1960.

Between 1959-1960 Mizoram was struck by a natural disaster that led to a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions. The bamboo that grew wildly in the state’s dense forests began to flower and fruits of the bamboo plant became food for the rats and that in turn led to an increase in the rat population which quickly spiraled out of control and led to the destructions of crops which in turn precipitated widespread famine.

According to the MNF the government of Assam was warned that the bamboo would flower and that it would lead to famine but the government played in down as tribal superstition and refused to intervene and when the famine eventually did hit, there was widespread anger.

The Mizo Cultural Society changed its name to the Mautam Famine Front in 1961 to not only help with relief efforts but to also demand for a separate state which would at the very least give the Mizos partial self-governance. The organization was founded in 1961 by Pu Laldenga who subsequently, many years later, became Mizoram’s first chief minister. The Mizo Famine Front was later dissolved and changed its name to the Mizo National Front and in 1966 it launched a separatist war.

The combatants were trained by former members of the 2nd Assam Rifles, Pu Laldenga himself served as a sergeant with the army prior to entering civil service and from all account the combatants were trained in exactly the same manner that the members of the Indian Army were.

The separatist war started on the 1st of March 1966 with an attack on an army outpost in Aizawl and escalated from there. The war not only involved ground troops but also included air raids by the Indian Air Force (5th and 6th of March).

The Indian Air Force raid, in retaliation to the uprising, on Aizawl was extremely damaging and under normal circumstances the air force may not have been called in but for the fact that on the 24th of January 1966 Indira Gandhi, India’s iron lady was elected the prime minister of India and she dealt with the situation in the manner that she always did when the security of the nation was threatened, with force.

The question would later be raised as to why the government used such excessive force to deal with its own citizens and New Delhi would deny it, claiming that the raids on Aizawl were in fact routine supply drops.

The ensuing struggle would force members of the Mizo National Front to go underground and the war was fought from hideouts in jungles in and from across India’s borders. It was a desperate struggle that would compel many government and non government organizations to try and seek a peaceful solution.

However, because Mizoram was a predominantly Christian state and still remains so, some 87% of its population is Christian, church leaders, at the request of the then governor, intervened on behalf of the people of Mizoram and peace negotiations were started. In 1974 selected church leaders began to act as mediators in talks between the government and the MNF.

Talks also later began with Rajiv Gandhi who wanted an unconditional surrender but the church argued on behalf of the Mizos. Things went back and forth during which time Pu Laldenga and the Mizo National Front remained underground and finally 20 years after the MNF launched its separatist war, in 1986, a peace accord was signed and Mizoram became a separate state.

The MNF’s armed struggle is a thing of the past. It remains a political party but support for it appears to be waning with new parties like PRISM (People’s Right to Information and Development Implementation Society of Mizoram) emerging and contesting parliamentary seats and it is difficult to say how the MNF will fare in the future but things appear to be changing for Mizoram and the state appears to be heading in the right direction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *