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Of Peace and Development in Mizoram

  A truism that has often been used to explain the lack of development in a region affected by armed conflicts of one kind or another is: peace and development are indivisible and where there is no peace, there can be no development. The reasoning is that there is a logical link between peace and development.

The Mizos, especially the politicians, are fond of proclaiming that Mizoram is the most peaceful State in the Northeast. Ever since the signing of the Mizoram Accord or "Memorandum of Settlement" between the Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Government of India on 30 June 1986, the State has indeed been largely free of armed conflicts. There have been occasional but minor incidents of armed activities perpetrated, mostly in the border areas, by underground groups based from outside the state such as the Chin National Army (CNA) from Myanmar, Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) from Manipur, Bru National Liberation Force (BNLF) from Tripura and Hmar People's Convention-Democratic (HPC-D) from Assam and Manipur. However, these incursions have neither been serious nor frequent enough to disrupt the process of development work. By the logic of 'development linked with peace', Mizoram should thus have advanced ahead of most of the Northeast States still troubled by insurgency.

             However, even to a casual visitor to the countryside, it becomes obvious that Mizoram has a long distance to cover in the path of the eradication of poverty, not to speak of achieving prosperity. Let us take just the situation in the energy supply, a crucial infrastructure sector which, in Saddam Hussein's parlance, must be described as "mother of all sectors of development." The current position regarding the supply and consumption of electricity is: Estimate of requirement - 120 MW as against existing supply of 72 MW; electricity generated by the State: 22 MW (Diesel: 16 MW and Mini/Micro: 6 MW); purchased from neighbouring States: 50 MW. A State that is 50 MW short of its energy requirement is unlikely to be able to make much headway in development. Other sectors of infrastructure do not seem to fare better either.  Whether it is in human resource development, public health services or transport system, Mizoram faces a daunting task of quality upgradation. 

                      With a record of nearly two decades of peaceful political climate, why is Mizoram still at this stage of development? Why didn't it acquire a status, worthy of emulation by other States of the NE? Or is there something wrong with the kind of peace Mizoram has attained? What are the reasons behind this reality?  These are some of the questions I will presently attempt to address in this paper.

 Peace Accord :

             A quick look at the Peace Accord and its background is perhaps appropriate, as the Accord was supposed to have triggered the development process. The earliest peace overture made by the MNF on record was the dispatch of two ranking intelligence officers to make contact with the Indian authorities in mid-1969, about three years after the start of the insurgency. The move apparently made on his own by the MNF President, Laldenga, came to be known by his cabinet colleagues only when the two officers were arrested by the Indian Army on July 5, 1969 at Karimganj, Assam.  Next came his by now famous letter written on August 20, 1975 to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The letter clearly indicates that there had been regular contacts between the Indian authorities and the emissaries of the MNF since late 1973. The crucial importance of the letter, of course, is that it clearly spelled out: 1) that the MNF chief was agreeable to seek solution to the Mizo problem within the Constitution of India; 2) that his senior colleagues had not been informed of this and would need to be persuaded; and 3) that he required the assistance of the Indian authorities to persuade them.

            Apart from whatever motives the MNF leader might have had on his own for initiating peace process at that stage, the pressure of public opinion, overwhelmingly in favour of peace, spearheaded by the Church, political parties especially the Indian National Congress and NGOs would have been difficult to ignore. As the result of his unilateral initiative, he had little or no bargaining leverage in the peace talks. The ensuing protracted peace parleys and the reasons why the Peace Accord took so long to be concluded are beyond the scope of this paper. Considering the horrible sufferings that the insurgency and the counter-operations by the security forces brought on innocent people, these are still fitting topics for a thorough research.

            As for the Accord, except for providing to cover the "revenue gap" of the state for 1986-87, it does not contain any provisions that could significantly accelerate the process of development. The Memorandum of Settlement is essentially concerned with the conferment of statehood to Mizoram and the attendant legal and administrative questions. Even the status of statehood, according to the first Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Mizoram, the late Ch. Chhunga, was "available" for the asking in 1971, the year in which North Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act was passed and a decision to confer statehood to Meghalaya and Tripura was arrived at. He said, "Since our underground brothers would have nothing but a statehood to bring home eventually, we left it for them to bring it home. We had thus to be content with the status of Union Territory" The statement could have perhaps been an exaggerated interpretation of the apparent willingness of the government of India then to accommodate the demand for statehood, provided that would lead to the end of insurgency in Mizoram. At any rate, the peace of mind that the cessation of insurgency brought to the people appeared to be enough of a bonus by itself.

 Government of India's Attitude :

                       The actual provisions of the Peace Accord notwithstanding, the central government had clearly intended to help develop Mizoram as a model state in the Northeast, once peace could be somehow put in place there. The objective was to demonstrate that "peace pays" by helping the newly peaceful Mizoram generate development to the extent that it would become worthy example for other insurgent groups, a catalyst for peace, as it were, in the whole region. "Let there be cessation of insurgency first, then we shall see the rest," so the argument went. The actions taken by the central government immediately upon the conclusion of the Accord amply demonstrated this attitude.

Just a week after the signing of the Accord, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and family, Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka and Rahul, visited Mizoram for four days from 9 to 12 July 1986, an unusually long and intimate visit by a head of government to a tiny state like Mizoram. The PM personally drove to the southern, eastern and northern fringes of Mizoram. He also convened on 11 July a meeting of all Chief Ministers of the Northeast States and Union Territories in Aizawl to assess the impact of the Mizoram accord and consider measures to curb insurgency in the region. And at the end of the visit, he declared that, if peace held, he would turn Mizoram into 'a land of milk and honey'.

                    Then, in early August 1986, a team of eight central Ministers, accompanied by concerned senior officials in their respective ministries, headed by N. D. Tiwari, Minister of External Affairs, came to Aizawl with the express purpose of helping Mizoram to formulate a master plan for development. The team apparently found the Mizoram government unprepared for meaningful interaction, perhaps, because it was still in transition from a status of Union Territory to full statehood. "They were surprised at the visit and were totally at a loss as to what to suggest to such a powerful team," was how one participant from Delhi put it.  After sanctioning a few pending project proposals, the central team had to return to Delhi without carrying back with them any far reaching ideas about the development of Mizoram.

 Development in the post-Accord Mizoram :

             What is even more surprising is that the interim UT government as also the following state government did not subsequently take up the Centre on its original (obvious but not written) 'promise' of transforming Mizoram into a model state. Instead, they turned legalistic and clamoured for "full and speedy implementation" of the Accord, which, as made clear already, had no provisions of significant import for economic development. One allegedly 'unimplemented' clause of the accord (3.3) relates to the rehabilitation of the 600 odd MNF returnees. The central government initially sanctioned Rs. 15 crores for this, which apparently did not reach properly all the intended beneficiaries.9 10   The other provision of the accord that causes controversy is concerning indemnities to be paid to the heirs/dependents of persons who were killed or whose properties were destroyed during and following the 1966 'disturbances'. The initiative needed for the closure of this issue is also clearly dependent on the state government. Important though these matters might have been for the affected individuals and for the 'healing process' of the trauma of the insurgency, they are not vital factors for development.

An example of the present state of development in Mizoram, i.e. the situation on energy supply, has been mentioned earlier. Seen with the wisdom of hindsight in the context of the Center's plan to make Mizoram a model of development, it is clearly the failure of successive ministries after the Accord that is to blame for the current dismal state of affairs in Mizoram. An exception perhaps was Brig. T. Sailo's ministry, which was in power in 1979-1984, well before the peace accord was signed. The first and, one must say, the only systematic plans for building infrastructure, especially in the transport and power sectors, were formulated and begun by that ministry. However, most of these projects have remained unimplemented today. The most glaring example among them is the 120 MW11  Bairabi Hydro-power Project on the Dhaleshwari (Tlawng) river for which Detail Project Report was completed way back in 1984.

              One is not concerned here with assigning blames on the various ministries for their evident failure to take advantage of the 'generosity' of the central government then. Nor would it serve any purpose to lament over their failure. It is to establish that, in the absence of a competent agency to generate development, peace per se does not/cannot produce any meaningful development. 'The longer peace lasts, giving time to those in charge to make a mess, the more intractable the problems become' - seems to be what Mizoram today has signified. It may, therefore, be pertinent to conduct a brief survey of conditions in Mizoram today  in order to surmise: what a failure to make a purposeful use of peace can bring to the lot of a people in the NE and what this may portend for their future.

                     As noted earlier, Mizoram is critically deficient in infrastructure building. Take the example of Bairabi Thermal Power Plant with a capacity to produce 22MW of electricity, which was set up at a cost of Rs. 105 crores and was inaugurated early this year. It is now lying idle, not for want of fuel as claimed by the authorities, but because the estimated unit cost is too high to be introduced to public consumers.12  Around Rs. 9 crores of compensation has recently been awarded for land and properties to be affected by a 12MW Hydel Project at Tuirial, making it almost certain that this mini project will also become cost-ineffective.9 The post-Accord governments have not been able to produce even one cost-effective infrastructure project so far.

                   The unsystematic approach to infrastructure development has now resulted cumulatively in the distortion of the whole development process. Added to this is rampant corruption rooted in the nexus of politicians and officialdom. In such a situation as this, no sector of the economy can be expected to produce any significant progress. Agriculture, the mainstay of rural economy, has remained stagnant. The bulk of essential items of food continue to come from outside the state. Private sector is unable to take off, thereby failing to play its important role of generating jobs. Instead, government service becomes the main stable source of employment, leading to surplus staffing of the government. The income gap between urban and rural dwellers is steadily widening. The rate of growth of educated unemployed is rapid, now stated to total close to one lakh, in a population of less than one million. With in-patients in the main Civil Hospital requiring to have their lab tests at private laboratories and having to pay for syringes and bandages, the health care system cannot afford much care. Critical drinking water problem in dry season continues unabated. There continues a decline in per capita success rate of young graduates in the national level competitions for jobs owing to lack of quality education. A random illustration of the economic situation, such as is given here, is perhaps enough to show that the development process is in a state of an alarming disarray.

                 Faced with a dismal prospect on all fronts, the general public has become very pessimistic and negative in its attitude towards the government. As not many expect the authorities to help them improve their ways of eking out a living, they would rather stake a share directly on the 'development monies' by whatever means available to them. In other words, corruption begets corruption. The system has become so corrupt that the only way to be able to benefit from it is to become corrupt oneself. This is not about a simple corrupt practice, packed with perks and fringe benefits, which still produces the intended results, though at a bloated cost. It is about a system, which can no longer steadfastly pursue its avowed objectives - a system perhaps heading towards a collapse.

                     Thus, threats and pressures have become the most effective means of extracting group interests and concessions from the government. NGOs like the Church, the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) have become unduly influential not only in the discourse of policy issues but also of routine administrative matters.  Then, there are numerous professional unions, who have often held the government a virtual hostage when they felt that the latter infringed on their 'legitimate' interests.

                     One can cite numerous cases of the manifestation of social tensions and despondent anxieties arising from the perception of the common people that the authorities, present or past, are not really fit to eventually improve matters. What has been briefly pointed out in the foregoing should be sufficient to give a glimpse of Mizoram after two decades of the signing of the peace accord.

                   Beneath its peaceful picture so often proudly painted by its politicians, Mizoram is fraught with problems which they are not about to solve. For how long the place will remain as peaceful as it has been in the last so many years is anybody's guess. One thing seems certain. That is that if the common people in Mizoram ever again decide to have a violent revolt from sheer frustrations, it may not be against the Centre. Most likely, it will be against the misrule of their fellow Mizos.

Written by Administrator DATED: 6th September 2006, 9:18 PM | LANGUAGE: ENGLISH