PM Modi’s brinkmanship in the Lok Sabha on the 1966 Mizoram bombing

To deflect from his government’s culpability in Manipur, the PM invoked the IAF bombing of Mizoram, minus a key detail—that the MNF had declared independence from India on 1 March 1966

Rajiv Gandhi in Mizoram (photo: @Datalogy_/Twitter)
Rajiv Gandhi in Mizoram (photo: @Datalogy_/Twitter)

NH Political Bureau

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known for his brinkmanship. He is also known for using half-truths to his advantage.

Both skills were evident in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, 10 August, when the prime minister, eyes flashing, recalled, “...On 5th March 1966, Congress had its Air Force attack the helpless citizens in Mizoram. Congress should answer if it was the Air Force of any other country. Were the people of Mizoram not the citizens of my country? Was their security not the responsibility of the Government of India...”

Now, it is inconceivable that the prime minister of India is ignorant of the context of that event. Modi would have known that the bombing was ordered after the Mizo National Front had declared independence and seized control of the Assam Rifles and Indian Army assets. So what did he hope to achieve by recalling this 57-year-old chapter of Indian history?

The reference was clearly meant to remind people in Mizoram and the Kuki-Zo community in Manipur that a Congress government in 1966 had ordered the bombing. Ironically, the BJP government in Manipur has described the Kuki-Zo tribes in Manipur as infiltrators from Myanmar; and the ethnic clash in Manipur has driven thousands of Kuki-Zo families to Mizoram.

Indeed, the Kuki-Zo MLAs in Manipur fly to Delhi for talks from Aizawl and hold their meetings in Mizoram, refusing to attend the assembly in Imphal. But why was a reminder of the bombing of Aizawl in 1966 necessary to explain what is happening in Manipur in 2023?

Since the PM is so fond of digging into history, he could have also reminded the House that Indira Gandhi had taken over as prime minister on 24 January 1966. He might have recalled that the MNF’s main goal was to create a Greater Mizoram, a home for the Zo tribes spread across India, Myanmar and what was then East Pakistan. He could have drawn from his knowledge of history to recall that the MNF had created an armed wing, the Mizo National Army.

On 28 February 1966, the MNF launched Operation Jericho to throw out the Indian forces stationed in Mizoram—launching simultaneous attacks on the Assam Rifles garrisons in Aizawl and Lunglei. The next day, they declared independence from India. They captured the government treasury in Aizawl and the Army installations in Champhai and Lunglei.

The prime minister might also have acknowledged that it was the Congress government, under Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister, that finally secured peace in Mizoram in 1986. The Mizoram Peace Accord led to the exit of the Congress government in the state and made the MNF leader Laldenga chief minister.

Since the PM thought it necessary to speak about Mizoram, he could have also informed the Lok Sabha what his government has done for the Kuki-Zo people living in the refugee camps in that state after having fled for their lives from Manipur. He could have also revealed whether his government had responded to the appeal for financial help and humanitarian aid made by the Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga.

Following the developments in Manipur, there is a surge in Zo nationalism. The whole North-East region has been tense ever since the civil war began raging in Myanmar, long before the ethnic clashes in Manipur, which have of course upped the ante.

Will there be a revival of a demand for ‘Greater Mizoram’? It should not surprise us if there is.

While the security establishment must be seized with this question, the prime minister’s selective memory—or selective recounting—of 1966 and the political opportunism on display are unlikely to go towards reducing the tension or securing peace.

It will be apt to remind Prime Minister Modi that it was Indira Gandhi who had visited Mizoram in April 1984 and then sent Rajiv Gandhi, who was the AICC general secretary at the time, to the state to explore the possibilities for peace. Prime Minister Modi is yet to visit Manipur.

Modi may also like to see the following post on X (formerly Twitter):

“Hon' Prime Minister-ji, this is how we (Mizos) welcomed Pu Rajiv Gandhi and Pi Sonia Gandhi for their role in concluding a successful peace accord in the state. Let's not reignite a sensitive issue in the (North-East).”

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