On July 7, 1990, the man many consider the greatest Mizo ever, breathed his last. Twenty-eight years on, Laldenga still remains in the hearts of many. “He was God’s gift to Mizoram to safeguard the nation, religion, and land he has given to us,” says Zoramthanga, the former chief minister of Mizoram and president of Mizo National Front, a political party founded by Laldenga.
Often described as the ‘Father of Mizo Nation’ by his followers, Laldenga was born on July 11, 1927 at Pukpui Village, Lunglei district in the southern part of Mizoram. He joined the British Indian Army in 1944 before taking over as secretary of the newly formed voluntary organisation Mizo Cultural Society in 1955. Soon, the organisation was renamed Mizo National Famine Front to fight the Centre’s indifference to the severe famine, called Mautam locally, which recorded deaths of at least 100 people.
On October 22, 1961, Laldenga converted the Famine Front into a political party and re-christened it the Mizo National Front. It also had a special armed wing called the Mizo National Army (MNA) which launched an attacked on the Indian government and took key positions in Aizawl and Lunglei. The MNF on March 1, 1966 declared independence from Indian Union to establish an independent Mizo nation called ‘Greater Mizoram’. For the next 20 years, the secessionist movement continued in the Mizo Hills resulting in air raids across key location in the state by the Indira Gandhi government. Till date, this remains the only instance of Indian Air Force (IAF) carrying out bombings within its own civilian territory.
Laldenga — who famously wrote, “In the house of India there lives an unhappy man. His name is Mizo” — was in exile for 10 years, mostly in Bangladesh and Pakistan. He was arrested on several occasions, but he also kept back channels open to seek a peaceful resolution to the Mizo problem.
When Rajiv Gandhi came into power in 1985, his priority was a peace settlement with the MNF which resulted in a meeting with Laldenga on February 15, 1985. By June 30 next year, both parties had signed the Mizoram Accord making this union territory a full-fledged state on February 20, 1987.
Laldenga became interim chief minister of Mizoram before the state’s first elections were held with the sitting chief minister Lal Thanhawla stepping down to become deputy chief minister. MNF went on to win the state assembly polls in 1987 and Laldenga became the first chief minister of a full-fledged Mizoram state. However, his reign at the top was short-lived as he was soon toppled due to defections from his party in 1988.
Laldenga died a couple of years later in London on his way home after getting cancer treatment in New York. After a state funeral, his remains were buried in Treasury square, the city centre of the capital Aizawl. “He fought for a better Mizoram, our dignity and rights against the dominance of superpowers. He imbibed the true spirit of Mizo nationalism among us, and his sacrifices lead us to the path of peace, harmony and development,” says K Vanlalvena, the general secretary of the Mizo National Front.