Mizoram: Ahead of Polls, MNF's Renewed Call for Zo Unification Creates Political Flutter

With the Kuki-Meitei face-off in the neighbouring Manipur, the emotional appeal for the unification of the Mizo-Zo community spread across the northeast has grown manifold. Although the issue has been dormant for decades, the ruling Mizo National Front has once again brought it to the fore.

Aizawl: Addressing a capacity audience at the weekly meeting of Mizo National Front (MNF) in Aizwal on July 28, Mizoram’s deputy chief minister Tawnluia spoke passionately in favour of Zo unification – the unification of people belonging to the Mizo-Zo community spread across the northeastern states.

Among other things, Tawnluia told the audience that the issue had figured prominently during the signing of the peace accord between MNF and the Government of India in 1986. He said MNF had clearly articulated, at that time, to the national government in Delhi to bring all Zo tribes under a unified administration. The MNF leader pointed out to the party members that their party had persistently urged the Indian government to support the cause.

To back his party’s stand, he underlined what was mentioned in the peace accord: “The question of unification of Mizo inhabited areas of other states to form one administrative unit was raised by the MNF delegation. It was pointed out to them, on behalf of the Government of India, that Article 3 of the Constitution of India describes the procedure in this regard but that the Government cannot make any commitment in this respect.”

Tawnluia’s reference to the accord and the issue of Zo unification on an MNF platform holds particular significance if seen in light of the ongoing crisis in Manipur. With the Kuki-Meitei communities’ face-off in the neighbouring state, the emotional appeal for Zo unification has gone up manifold in the areas inhabited by the Mizo-Zo community.

Also read: Mizoram: Zo Tribe Protestors Burn Effigies of Modi, Biren Singh

In a recent interview to Northeast Live, MNF leader and Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga had also reiterated his party’s historical goal of unifying all Mizo-inhabited areas into a single administrative unit. He had highlighted how Mizoram and Meghalaya were carved out of Assam, underscoring the possibility of similar reorganisation of states in other parts of India.

Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga. Photo: PTI

“Before the coming of India, Burma and Pakistan, we were under one administration more or less but the British divided Mizoram into India and Burma and India and East Pakistan. Then, even inside India, the Mizos were still divided into different regions administratively, so when the MNF was founded by Mr. Laldenga on October 22, 1961, the main target was unification of all the Mizo inhabited areas into a single administrative unit…that was the main target of the founding fathers of the MNF but of course, the Myanmar side and now the Bangladesh side, since it is (they are) a foreign country we cannot say anything but within India, since it has happened in many parts of India, one state can be divided to form two, three states (sic),” Zoramthanga had said.

Although the issue of unification has remained dormant since the signing of the peace accord in 1986, the ongoing crisis in neighbouring Manipur has allowed MNF to bring the latent issue to the fore once again. It should also be noted that Mizoram, under the MNF government, has taken in several Kukis who are fleeing persecution in their home state.

With Assembly elections in Mizoram around the corner, the ruling MNF has been under severe criticism over its alleged failure to fulfill the promises it made to the people in its manifesto. The move to provide shelter and support to Kukis has provided MNF with much-need positive public opinion among the electorate in the state.

Early this week, a report comparing chief minister Zoramthanga himself with his Manipur counterpart Biren Singh was widely circulated on social media. On his official Instagram account, Zoramthanga posted a picture of a Kuki Zo youth who was arrested after he criticised Singh in a Facebook post and was later killed allegedly by a mob on his way to the jail. In the caption, Zoramthanga wrote that such an incident will never happen in Mizoram. He went on to further write that while Singh would arrest people for speaking against him, he would not, because he is “not that type of leader”.

 A political stunt by MNF, says opposition 

What needs to be highlighted here is that despite the MNF’s heightened outreach on the Zo unification issue, opposition parties in Mizoram are of the view that it may not cut ice with the people in the upcoming polls. Several opposition leaders that The Wire spoke to in Aizawl said that the MNF will have little to gain from its call for Zo unification, as it has failed in performing its responsibilities within the state.

The spokesperson of the state’s Congress party, Lallianchhunga, believes the MNF is trying to build a political narrative in their favour through a “sentimental issue”.

He told The Wire, “Ethnic cleansing is just something MNF has come up with to build a political narrative in their favour. The real issue in Manipur is the total silence of Narendra Modi on the burning of churches. It is about religious issues, Hindu versus minority religions, especially Christians. The Prime Minister and other BJP national leaders have not addressed this yet.”

He said that he believes the issue will be resolved soon but the religious issue will continue to be a “living political issue as long as the BJP is in power at the centre and state level, especially in Manipur”.

Lallianchhunga further criticised the MNF, saying that they have ignored the major crisis in Mizoram such as the financial crisis and healthcare crisis that the state is facing. He also held MNF indirectly responsible for the suppression of freedom of religion in India because of its alliance with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Also read: Mizoram CM Decries UCC, Rejects Accusation of ‘Meddling’ in Manipur’s Affairs

“They are afraid to leave the NDA and NEDA (North East Democratic Alliance), because they still seek financial resources from the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. They may also seek financial assistance for their election campaign. It is an open secret that the MNF had got financial assistance from the BJP and its partners in the 2018 elections. This time around too they hope for getting financial resources from the BJP and its partners.”

On August 3, state Congress president Lalsawta upped the ante against the BJP and gave a call to all political parties, NGOs, and churches in the state to “form a unified front against the BJP”. He particularly underlined the BJP’s policies “to suppress and eliminate the religious practice and cultures of the minorities”.

Kenneth L Chawngthu, vice-president of Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM), also echoed the same sentiment as Congress’s Lallianchhunga. Chawngthu’s party is on the rise in the state.

“There is no reason why this issue should benefit the MNF party, instead, it will defame them. Mizoram chief minister has not been able to hold a direct face-to-face meeting with the Manipur chief minister in a situation like this. He should go and meet the chief minister in person. Also, they are part of the NDA. It is at times like these when they should make use of their alliance. Instead, they have built a bad reputation (for the party) for having failed to take action despite being alliance partners with the BJP. Reunification of the Zo people has been our party policy too right from the beginning, so it does not serve any advantage for the MNF in the coming polls. In fact, it is the goal of every party in Mizoram,” said Chawngthu.

Mizoram BJP president Vanlalhmuaka told The Wire that he believes the MNF, like many other parties, is trying to “politicise the issue”.  “Everybody is politicising the Manipur issue except the BJP. Every political party is doing it,” he said.

Vanlalhmuaka said he believes the efforts of the MNF to unify the Zo people will go in vain, as it has still failed to uphold its duty to the people of Mizoram. “Because they have to think about the development of Mizoram first. They promise three lakhs per family (as a poll promise) and a flyover (in Aizawl) but they have failed to do it.”

Professor and political analyst J. Doungel from the Department of Political Science, Mizoram University  shared his views with The Wire, saying that Zo unification is not a matter for politicisation but a concern about unification of people of the same ethnic group.

“More than politicisation, no matter which party it is, they have to care for their blood-related brothers. All political parties in Mizoram including the two national parties, namely Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, profess Zo unification. Political parties profess the slogan of Zo unification because they would like to show concern to the public that they stand for unification of the Zo ethnic group.  As all political parties in Mizoram including the said two national parties too advocate Zo unification, it is not appropriate to single out the MNF party alone in this regard. Therefore, it is not a matter of politicisation but dealing with an ethnic issue one a political platform,”  he said.

Doungel said while the issue may impact the elections as the voters will judge how the government is handling  the situation, the ethnic factor takes on larger importance over politicisation of the matter.“MNF has said Zo unification is something they included in its manifesto since the formation of the party with effect from 28th October, 1961 that is being continued till today, and it cannot be commented that it is false. The reason being, ‘Unification of all Zo inhabited territories under a single administrative unit’ is  the slogan of the party from the time MNF was formed  and it may have a certain political advantage but it is not an issue which the MNF newly  introduces because of the current events. It is only just revival and continuation of its original agenda by the MNF,” he said.