On this day — June 30 — 30 years ago, the Mizo Peace Accord was signed, one of the Indian state’s enduring peacemaking successes. It was signed by the Mizo National Front (MNF) leader Laldenga, Mizoram Chief Secretary Lalkhama, and union Home Secretary R D Pradhan. In his book Working with Rajiv Gandhi, Pradhan describes in fascinating detail how the deal was eventually clinched in 1986.
On June 27, his birthday, Pradhan invited Laldenga for a cup of tea, and told him that he would retire from service in three days, and that it was up to Laldenga now to take a decision on the terms suggested to him. Laldenga told the Home Secretary that he would get back to him — but Pradhan did not hear from him for the next two days.
Around 2.30 pm on June 30, Pradhan’s last day in service, Laldenga came to see the officer alone in his office. Over a cup of tea, Pradhan told him, “Mr Laldenga, I have fallen in love with your land and the Mizos. Perhaps one day, very soon, I can greet you and your family there.”
Laldenga became emotional, and said he wished to conclude the accord with Pradhan. But Pradhan said it was too late — he would leave office in another three hours. However, he told Laldenga, that if the Mizo leader was ready to be flexible, perhaps a settlement could be reached before he left office. “You could later sign the accord with my successor.”
Laldenga thought it over, and said he needed to consult his colleagues. “Please go ahead but return before 4.30 pm,” Pradhan replied. “Thereafter, I must go and bid farewell to the Home Minister and the Prime Minister, and be back for the function in the Ministry.”
Pradhan briefed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who asked him to continue with his efforts. At 4.30 pm, Laldenga came over with his team. Pradhan and Laldenga went over to 7 Race Course Road, where the PM quickly cleared two pending points in the Accord. The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs then met at short notice and approved the draft of the agreement.
But it was already 8.30 pm, and Pradhan was very clear that under the Civil Services Rules, he was retired after office hours — and thus had no authority to affix his signatures to a formal document. He mentioned this to Rajiv, who gave him an extension until midnight. The “Memorandum of Settlement on Mizoram” was thus signed, and the news was broadcast at 9.30 pm on Doordarshan.
The negotiations with Laldenga were initially undertaken by G Parthasarathy, a retired diplomat who was an adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Laldenga was, in fact, supposed to meet Mrs Gandhi on October 31, 1984, the day she was assassinated by her security guards. Parthasarathy had negotiated the Assam Accord for Rajiv, but his draft for the Mizo Accord didn’t find favour with the PM. In September 1985, Rajiv chose Home Secretary Pradhan to be the lead negotiator with Laldenga.
Laldenga, a retired Army Havildar who had also worked as an accounts clerk in the Assam government, founded the Mizo National Famine Front in 1956-57 to protest against famine in the Lushai hills. By October 1961, he had formed the MNF and its armed wing, Mizo National Army (MNA), which called for independence. The Army launched an operation against the MNA, driving it across the border into East Pakistan. The MNF received arms, funds and training from China and Pakistan. Laldenga was arrested and brought to Assam in 1963. He was acquitted of charges of treason, but on February 28, 1966, he declared Mizoram’s independence and resumed the insurgency.
The Army intensified operations, and used the controversial strategy of uprooting nearly 80% of the population and resettling them in new, fenced-in protected villages or regrouping centres. By 1971, the violence had come down significantly, and by the early 1980s, Laldenga — whose family was based in London — had established contact with Indian intelligence agencies in Europe to explore ways to return to Mizoram.
The negotiations were not easy. In October 1985, Laldenga leaked to the press the full text of the agreement reached between him and Parthasarathy. The negotiations continued as the two sides worked on the modalities of the MNA surrender. The issue of the surrender of 750 Mizo fighters was resolved by the formation of two camps on the Indo-Bangladesh border, at Parva and Marpara. From there, after surrendering their arms and ammunition, the rebels went to the rehabilitation centre at Luangmual on the outskirts of Aizawl.
Under the Accord, the government agreed to grant full statehood to Mizoram, along with its own High Court. A university was proposed. The Accord promised constitutional protection for Mizo religious and social customs, and laws of the Mizo people. Mizo was notified as an official Indian language. The MNF agreed to break all contact with other insurgent groups in the Northeast.
In July 1986, Rajiv went to Mizoram on a 72-hour tour of goodwill as a follow-up to the Accord, even as the Opposition criticised the alleged compromises made in “buying peace from armed rebels”. As part of the deal, Laldenga was made the interim Chief Minister of Mizoram. He won the first Mizoram Legislative Assembly election after statehood in 1987, and continued as CM for a year before his government was toppled.
Among the four major peace accords signed by Rajiv — Punjab, Assam, Sri Lanka and Mizo — the last was the most successful. It also set the template for future negotiations with rebel groups, including the the Naga groups.
On June 25, Mizoram launched the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Mizo Accord with a peace rally and an awareness drive that underscored the advantages of peace and stability in the region. That peace has been sustained in Mizoram for 30 years is no mean achievement, when the situation in parts of Manipur, Nagaland and Assam still remains unsettled.