By Sanjoy Hazarika
Lalthanhawla wenty five years is a less than a fraction of a blink of an eye, we are told, in terms of history. But it is just a year less than the average life span of an Indian at the time of Independence. Many Indians, in the grip on unrelenting poverty and disease, did not live usually beyond 26. Check your books and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon`s lecture of 11 August 2011.
In 64 years of a fractured, fractious freedom, the life expectancy of our population has grown. Now that surely counts for something more than a blink of an eye or less. Which brings me to the point: what is the value of a quarter century in the life of a state, a community, a nation?
More specifically, how does it work for a state that suffered for four previous decades from a mix of benign and malignant neglect by the Indian state as well as by the mother state of Assam: and that too laced with famine, an armed uprising against New Delhi, extensive assaults on a civilian population by security forces, bloodshed, extensive displacement, not to speak of lack of “development”? In 25 years, the state of Mizoram can`t wipe out the tears and pain of the past, the lost years for those lands wherever weapons had supplanted reason, bloodshed replaced dialogue and state power sought to overwhelm local voices.
But in a quarter century, it remains the first and, one could argue, the only, part of India where political dialogue, backed by a strong civil society (in this case the Church), brokered a deal that ended the violence and brought militants within the ambit of the Constitution. In a quarter century, Mizoram remains the first and, one could argue, the only, part of India where political dialogue, backed by a strong civil society (in this case the Church), brokered a deal that ended the violence and brought militants within the ambit of the Constitution.
So, if not nothing else, that`s a reason to celebrate Independence Day — despite 2G, CWG (any other G and -ji scams hovering about), including fraudulent land acquisition by those in and out of uniform, apart from the miserable life that tens of millions still live and which is visible every day that we move about in village and countryside, in towns and cities — there are still rays of hope. This is not to say that all is well in Mizoram: there are many challenges.
Chief Minister Lalthanhawla would be the very first to acknowledge this. Lalthanhawla had vacated the Chief Minister`s office in 1986, a much younger man then, to make way for Laldenga, who had fought against India, while based in Myanmar, Pakistan (both East and West at the time) and China, as part of a deal to sweeten a Constitutional settlement for the MNF. The MNF served two and a half terms in office, split a few times and now is the Opposition.
There are problems with governance, delivering basic services; there are allegations of corruption, while some organisations wield extraordinary powers and appear to set themselves above the law.
In addition, there are ethnic confrontations which remain unresolved: more than 50,000 of the Reang tribe fled violence over a decade back and remain in relief camps in neighbouring Tripura. There are tensions with tinier ethnic groups which number about 50,000 each: the Chakmas, Lais and Maras, whose leaders say they face discrimination at the hands of the “majority” (the Mizos are about 80% of a population of 1.07 million), There is also a major presence of political refugees and economic migrants from neighbouring Myanmar — largely Chins. These are an extraordinary set of political and social pressures with which a small state must cope.
These underlying tensions remain, but Mizoram remains one of the safest and most peaceful parts of India with a 91% literacy rate, second just to Kerala. The Mizos are also pragmatic people, unlike their emotional brethren in Nagaland, Manipur and Assam. It`s the one place where Bangladeshi investors have got fruit and bamboo processing plants going, among the few examples of FDI in the region. Forty years of neglect and conflict devastated social, economic and physical infrastructure; these take time to rebuild. But a generation which knew the crackle of gunfire and cries of pain and anger now is running the state; the children know peace.
That is why 25 years remain a lifetime in a state, an individual and people. It will always be more than the blink of an eye.
Author is a columnist, author, filmmaker, Saifuddin Kitchlew Chair at the Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia.