Who are the Hmar?
They are a tribal people living in Assam, Mizoram and Manipur, mainly in the area where these states meet. Although the Hmar identity is strong, Mizos in general consider them as part of the community, or at least as one of tribes that make up the Zohnahthlak, a loose grouping of tribes with largely similar customs, dialects and dress who live in Mizoram or its immediate vicinity. Many Hmars are members of Mizoram’s middle class; most no longer speak the Hmar dialect, and are fully integrated into Mizo society. In Manipur, the tribe is sometimes loosely included in the Kuki group, evidenced from the fact that one of the main Hmar armed groups — the HPCD — is considered part of the “Kuki armed groups” (more specifically, the United People’s Front group of militants).
How did the Hmar insurgency begin?
Not satisfied with the Mizo Accord of 1986 that ended two decades of insurgency led by the Mizo National Front (the peace deal did not grant the Hmar tribe administrative autonomy), some Hmar leaders formed the Hmar People’s Convention (HPC), and began a struggle for autonomy. The insurgency raged until 1994, when the Mizoram government set up the Sinlung Hills Development Council for Hmar-inhabited areas. The HPC joined the political mainstream, but Mizoram police and politicians say their best weapons were never surrendered, and an offshoot — the Hmar People’s Convention Democrats (HPCD) — emerged almost immediately and pressed on with the old demands.
How much popular support does the insurgency have?
The HPCD’s stated demand is a separate tribal autonomous district, and sometimes a state called Hmar Ram, for the Hmar tribe. In Hmar-inhabited areas of Mizoram, popular support is not evidenced in poll results — the HPC has little clout, and the fight is usually between the Congress and MNF. Nevertheless, observers say political parties often use the HPCD for their own ends, especially during polls, since an armed group can easily sway, rather threaten, voters. Occasionally, the group also boycotts polls — recently, village body elections could not be held in almost 30 villages. Skirmishes with the police appear to have lent the group some fresh support in some areas. But it suffers from two main weaknesses: one, the outfit is largely based in Manipur and a corner of southern Assam and has only thin physical presence in Mizoram; two, there are two HPCD factions, one of which has no beef with the Mizoram government.
How does the insurgency impact the common man in Mizoram?
Not much outside the Hmar-inhabited areas. Last year, six explosions rocked Aizawl within the space of a few months, but there were no casualties, and the men behind the blasts — all HPCD sympathisers — were arrested. The blasts did not create much fear among the general population. Within Hmar-inhabited areas, the HPCD is known to extort money from village heads, officials and businessmen, especially contractors.
What is HPCD’s operational strength?
Mizoram Police has stepped up operations against the group, occasionally striking beyond the state’s borders through commandos and intelligence operatives. With its self-styled “Army Chief” Lalropui Famhoite in jail and several high-ranking or active operatives in custody, the HPCD is somewhat subdued at the moment. The most wanted HPCD militant is Biakliana, a “commander” who was behind the group’s last major activity: an ambush on an MLAs’ convoy near the Manipur-Mizoram border that killed three and injured six this March. He is considered the fiercest and most powerful operative at large, though not the highest-ranking. The group’s armed wing and its political bosses too are not always on the same page, not least because armed cadres often do not get money from the political leaders, and have to depend on extortion. Intelligence personnel also point out the Hmar National Army, a tribal militia which seeks to protect Hmar interests, is slowly nudging out support for the HPCD in Manipur, its main base. Mizoram Police estimates the group has no more than 30 armed cadres currently.