Why was the MNF successful?

Published on May 7, 2005

By Sean Singsit

May 7, 2005: This article is written by taking materials from essays written by authors such as Sajal Nag, Nibedon & Bhaumik. I am unable to take prior permission to reproduce their works here and thus would apologize for it.)


1. The Mizo movement, started off with a bang when the MNA captured Aizawl in the 1960s. The Indian armed forces, in the words of Gen Manekshaw were, “caught with their pants down”. It took no less than an operation by the Indian Air force and the special forces i.e. the paratroop battalions to retrieve Aizawl. The hard fought battles for Mizo suzerainty would not be discussed here.

2. Today we shall see how and why the MNF movement was successful. Where as movements in Manipur and Nagaland have not been solved till date.

The Origins

3. The Mizo movement had its origin in the colonial period and were a part of an all India political process. The imminence of Indian Independence was characterized by two opposite trends – one, a pan-Indian sentiment seeking to integrate and be a part of a single Indian nation-state; two, another regional, religious or ethnicity based sentiment which sought to secede from the prospective Indian nation-state and seek its national destiny independently.

4. In Mizoram, the middle class saw that the restoration of the old order meant the reversion to the oppressive rule of the Chiefs and the endless continuation of their tyranny on the commoners. This enlightened middle class formed a political party called the Mizo Commoners Union (subsequently called Mizo Union) and organized a social movement for integration with India as it would mean the abolishment of the institution of the chieftainship which was a promised agenda of the Indian National Congress. The traditional elite of the Chiefs formed the United Mizo Freedom Organization and propagated a position against merging with India.

5. The Mizo Union was successful and thus Mizoram became a part of India.

6. The Mizo middle class who form the bulk of the Mizo Union had aspirations like any other people in the rest of India. They were newly educated and wanted to implement the ideas that modernity and western education had taught them. However the Indian state failed to meet the aspirations of this new middle class. Thus the mizos started a movement for secession. The following were the areas where the Indian state failed their aspirations: –

(i)  Constituted as a district within Assam, the Assamese leadership ignored the developmental needs of the tribals.
(ii) Despite its promise, the Indian state delayed abolishing the institution of Chieftainship.
(iii) The Centre threatened to impose Hindi, the province tried to force Assamese.
(iv) The District Council was a glorified debating society without any financial empowerment.
(v) The periodic bamboo famine (Mautam) stalked the hills resulting in starvation deaths, the Assamese leadership appeared unconcerned. This led to formation of Mizoram Famine Front and catapulted a certain ex-serviceman called Laldenga to renown.

Nature and Composition

7. In Mizoram the separatist movement was spearheaded by the old tribal autocracy – the chiefs and his rank members, as they feared that, under a promised republican government, they would lose their power, prestige and status.

8. Although the Mizo Separatist Movement was led by the old chiefly ranks, it was able to mobilize almost all echelons of society due to the growing disappointment with the Indian state. This enabled the leadership to transform their agitation into a social movement.

9. The other reason, which made it a relative success, was the convergence of all the sub-tribes into a generic Mizo Nationality. In other words, for the myriad sub-tribes inhabiting the Mizo Hills, the generic Mizo identity and the Lushai (Dulian) language became easily acceptable. The integration process that took place with the formation of Mizo Union was almost complete by the 1960s. Hence, there was neither factional fighting nor inter-tribal hostility for hegemony within the Mizo separatist movement.

Lessons from Mizoram

10. Following are the lessons to be learnt from the Mizo movement:-

(i) Hegemony, arrogance that is either racial, ethnic or national, oppression and fascist tendencies cannot be sustained. They let loose divisive and disintegrative tendencies.
(ii) As against this, democracy, republicanism, secularism, federalism and the policy of live and let live with regard to the coexistence of sub-national and ethnic groups, would ensure the solidarity and integrity of a state – national or federal.
(iii) The Mizo movement was successful, as it had   succeeded in integrating all sub-tribal units into a cohesive identity.