By L. Memo Singh
After several months of enforced idleness in Delhi, Laldenga, the leader of MNF (Mizo National Front) was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984 – the day she was assassinated. The situation compelled him to leave for London. He returned early in August 1985, with the expectation of signing the Mizo Accord with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
After five years in the Chittagong forests of East Pakistan and several years outside, he returned to India in 1976 and in February that year signed an accord with the Government of India. After Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was swept away from power, Laldenga made approaches to the Janata Government and later to Charan Singh ;s Government. He did not succeed in fulfilling his political ambition of being installed as the Chief Minister of Mizo land. When Mrs. Gandhi returned to power in 1980, Laldenga again started the dialogue.
A retired Army Havildar, Laldenga founded the Mizo National Famine Front in 1956-57 when the Assam Government failed to deal with the “Maotam” famine in the Lushai Hills. That was how the land of Mizo’shad bourgeoned embryonic before it becomes a Union Territory. The word Maotam owes its origin to the flowering of the wild bamboo once in 59 years. The bamboo fruit, relished by rodents contains an alkaloid which enhances their fertility many times over. Rats multiply and destroy crops and consume all the grain.
On 22 October, 1961, Laldenga formed the Mizo National Front(MNF) and its armed wing, MNA. He openly came out for cessation and independence and after a few bloody clashes with the security forces crosses over into East Pakistan. He was arrested and brought back to Assam in 1963. Chaliha, the Chief Minister of Assam saw in Laldenga the potential to neutralise the Anti congressMizo Union Party.Laldengaresponded positively to Chaliha’s overtures and even managed to secure an acquittal from the charge of treason. On 28 February 1966, he suddenly declared independence of Mizoram and again started the insurgency.
During the last tenure of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the venerable and elder diplomate with a long record of service to the country, who had been conducting negotiations with Laldenga for almost four years was G. Parthasarathy (known as G.P). He was the policy planning Advisor to the Prime Minister in the Ministry of External Affairs, a close advisor to Indira Gandhi,Parthasarathy enjoyed the rank of a Cabinet Minister.
After the signing of the Assam Accord on 15th August, 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had taken up the Mizo issue. He studied the draft of an agreement and a note by G. Parthasarathy. He marked certain paragraphs of the draft in bold fluorescentyellow and orange colours. The draft had been ready for the past ten months. The Prime Minister suddenly decided to take away the negotiations from G. Parthasarathy and hand them over to R.D. Pradhan, the Home Secretary who had worked closely with Rajiv Gandhi in the past eight months on Punjab and Assam.
Handing over a sheaf of papers to the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister said,”Pradhanji, I won’t agree with this,” He added, Laldenga is becoming impossible. I want you to handle the negotiations henceforth. Make sure that he understands that the Government of India will not sign any document containing these paras in orange. Those in yellow will not be modified.
Earlier, the Home Secretary, R.D. Pradhan hardly knew anything about the Mizo’s and their land except for knowing that the Union Territory was situated on India’s eastern borders. For him, the Mizo National Front(MNF) and their leader Laldenga were names that he had seen in the Home Ministry’s files.
After handing over the sheaf of papers to R. Vasudevan, his Joint Secretary dealing with the North-East, the Home Secretary glanced through sme tourist literature on Mizoram to get a general idea of the place. He was fully confident of his Joint Secretary who belonged to the IAS cadre of Maharashtra. R. Vasudevan was a quiet, efficient officer through in his work. The Home Secretary spent a couple of hours with R. Vasudevan, with great thoroughness; the Joint Secretary also briefed him about the issues involved.
The Home Secretary also went to Parthasarathy’s office to get a briefing from him about his talks with Laldenga. G.P. with the serenity and detachment that was his hallmark, explained to him the various issues. He also offered to help him, in whatever way he could. Parthasarathy also told him of the good impression he had formed of R. Vasudevan, the Joint Secretary.
Laldenga was already in Delhi. He was the guest of the Government of India. The Indian security agencies were looking after him and his colleagues from the underground who had come over the assist him. Laldenga’s past was not only colourful; it also showed he was untrustworthy. He had visited China, East Pakistan, West Germany and even Kabul and Karachi in search of support for his cause. There was a suspicious that some international agencies might be helping him. On the other hand the Indian security agencies had also kept in close touch with him. S. Swaminathan, a Senior RAW Officer who had established a good relationship with Laldenga, was also a very old friend of R.D. Pradhan. This luckily coincidence and his link with Laldengawas to prove very useful to him. R.D. Pradhan felt safe indealing with a high-profile insurgent, who had in the past two decades earned a reputation for his cunning and craftiness in negotiations.
In the early part of September, 1985, the Union Home Secretary, R.D. Pardhan invited Laldenga to his office. Laldenga had assumed that agreement on all matters had been reached with Parthasarathy and that the meeting with the Home Secretary was a mere formality. He was accompanied by two of his aides from the underground. The Home Secretary greeted Laldenga and his colleagues. Laldenga was stiff and formal. He was dressed in a carefully pressed brown suit and a bright red tie. A small compact-bodies man, he looked remarkably fit. His two associates were of athletic build. They were from the Mizo National Army (MNA) and had undergone years of hardship in no man’s land, across borders in Burma, East Pakistan (Bangladesh). They had small piercing bright eyes, and their body language showed that they were trained to survive in the jungles.
On entering the room of the Home Secretary, Laldenga, with his steel-rimmed thick glasses wore a puzzled look.Perhaps he found it infra dig to be summoned to meet the Home Secretary. He was dealing with a Cabinet level official and was looking forward to meeting the Prime Minister to formally conclude the accord.
After making sure that Laldenga had a few minutes to contemplate the new situation in which he was to soon find himself, the Home Secretary looked at his Joint Secretary, R. Vasudevan to make an opening move. Vasudevan had earlier met Laldenga in Parthasarathy’s office. He enquired whether they were being properly looked after. Laldenga replied curtly and for information for the Home Secretary, “Too well !we have been in Delhi for several months. In fact, last year I was to meet Mrs. Gandhi on 31 October the day she was assassinated”.
It was true that with the generosity of the Government of India after the unfortunate occurrence Laldenga had gone to London to spend Christmas with his wife and daughter. The Home Secretary enquired about the progress of his talks. Emphasising each word, Laldenga said in his clipped accent, “Mr. Home Secretary, I presume the meeting is in the nature of a courtesy call. My talks with Mr.Parthasarathy have advanced a great deal. In fact, except for making arrangement for my people in the underground to come out in the open everything has been finalised. I am waiting to meet the Prime Minister to sort out the political issues.”
In the past, on four different occasions, Laldenga had either reneged on the agreement or left Indian in a huff because he could not get theChief Ministership of Mizoram, as a price for giving up insurgency and the demand for independence.The Home Secretary, keeping in view Laldenga’s political bargain that was equally important for him and his unpalatable acts, as politely as he could told Laldenga that henceforth he would have to talk to the Home Secretary instead. The Home Secretary also hinted that some matters that Laldenga had discussed with Parthasarathy required looking into a fresh.
Laldenga’s reaction was predictable. He was visibly upset. The Home Secretary could sense the anger building up within him. There was a reddish glow on his face and the veins on his forehead were throbbing. His two colleagues were looking intently at their leader. Controlling his anger he said, “Mr. Home Secretary, if you propose to reopen and go back on what has been agreed upon I shall return to the jungles and take up arms. There will be bloodshed again and you will be responsible for that.”
Just then tea was served. Taking the opportunity in stirring sugar in his cup the Home Secretary thought of his reaction. He did not forget the brief given to him by the Prime Minister himself : to engage Laldenga in talks and retrieve some of the ground that had already been conceded to him. He said,”Mr. Laldenga we are meeting for the first time. you don’t know me. I don’t know you.” After a pause, “But, I do know that you are still the leader of an insurgency. Today you are in Delhi under some kind of guarantees regarding your persons.”
After the pose of a few second, the Home Secretary added, “If I have heard you right, you have threatened me. You have talked of bloodshed. You are in the room of the Union Home Secretary. If what I have understood is correct, I shall have to take action that the law requires me to take.” Laldenga looked at his colleagues and turning his head looked intently at the Home Secretary. Almost eyeball to eyeball. The Joint Secretary, R. Vasudevan was anxiously looking at both of them. Then, instead of a volcanic eruption of temper, Laldenga broke into laughter and said, “Mr. Home Secretary, it seems I can do business with you. You appear to be a pretty straightforward person.”
Laldenga must have known the trust that the Prime Minister reposed in the Home Secretary who had regarded Laldenga as a consummate actor and admitted that he had proved his charismatic leadership and how otherwise would hundreds of young Mizos spend the best years of their life in the underground, in one of the most inhospitable of jungles.
The talks of R.D. Pradhan, the Union Home Secretary with Laldenga thus started. The difficult task which the Home Secretary had on hand was that he had to ‘withdraw’ certain concessions already made by Parthasarathy and also obtain Laldenga’s agreement on a couple of new points raised by the Prime Minister himself.
One important matter in these talks with Laldenga was the modalities for his armed men underground to come out lay down their arms and be helped to integrate in their beloved Mizo society. It was the exclusive preserve of the Home Ministry. The Home Secretary took full advantage of that to drag out the negotiations, till he had achieved the task that PM had entrusted to him.
During the subsequent long process Rajiv Gandhi kept his understanding with the Home Secretary. Despite several efforts on behalf of Laldenga to make direct overtures, PM did not meet him. He did not want to come on the scene himself too soon. The only senior minister whom Laldenga could meet was S.B. Chavan, the Home Minister, who allowed the Home Secretary to full freedom to handle Laldenga. He came in only when the talks got bagged down. The Home Secretary also wanted to ensure that all major concessions were made by the Home Minister. It was his privilege.
As soon as Laldenga came to know that some matters settled between Parthasarathy and him were proposed to reopen, the crafty leader began to make his own moves. He started meeting opposition leaders, as probably advised by his counsel, SwarajKaushal, who later became the Governor of Mizoram during V.P. Singh’s regime. In the beginning of October, 1985, Laldenga even leaked to the press the full text of the agreement reached between him and Partharasathy. He obviously wanted the world to know that Rajiv Gandhi was going back on what had been agreed. That was one way of putting pressure on the Government of India.
One day when Rajiv Gandhi met the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister asked him addressing as such, “Yours good friend Laldenga.” The Home Secretary responded, “He’s great. Our love affairs has just started. I must have some more time to allow our relationship to flowers !” laughingly Rajiv Gandhi said, “Take your own time. I will not accept anything that contains those objectionable portions.”
Basically, there were three issues that rightly bothered the Prime Minister.
The first related to the assurance that with the signing of the accord all prosecutions against MNF members would be withdrawn, whatever may be the nature of the offence committed by them during the entire period of insurgency. They were to be granted pardon.
Secondly, no Act of Parliament in respect of resources under the land in Mizoram shall apply, unless the State Assembly resolved that it should apply.
The third demand was for statehood, a separate High Court and a university.
On the first point, the Prime Minister’s objection was consistent with the policy followed by the Home Ministry since independence. There was no question of granting pardon to those who had committed a heinous crime. The second objection arose from problems that had arisen in Nagaland, where under Art. 371(I) of the Constituency, no Act of Parliament in respect of “ownership and transfer of land and its resources,” would automatically apply to Nagaland. There had been a series of problems because of the three words ‘and its resources’. ONGC (Oil & Natural Gas Commission) had not been able to carry out its exploration work smoothly; several other agencies of the Government of India were facing problems. Some central government officials had even been murdered. PM did not want a repeat of that in Mizoram. Nagaland issues were already before the Supreme Court on the third issue there was no difficulty in principle.
Laldenga tried his best to stall the negotiations at the point they were ‘concluded’ with Parthasarathy. On the part of the Home Secretary, he took the line that unless he was ready to reopen those issues, there would be no agreement on any scheme for the MNF army to come out in the open. In fact, at that stage, the negotiations were being closely monitored by the so called commander –in-Chief of the Mizo National Army, Tawnluia. He invariably accompanied Laldenga in his meetings with the Home Secretary.
Laldenga was becoming increasingly relaxed and friendly. Once he thanked the Home Secretary and with a good gesture the Home Secretary told him, “Laldenga, in an interview with Surya magazine, you have said that you are the Government of India’s guest. We must look after you that’s our tradition.”
Laldenga had a hearty laugh. Taking advantage of his good mood the Home Secretary said, “Now let me tell you something more important-you have also said in that interview: “until I sign an agreement, I won’t call myself an Indian. In a more serious vein the Home Secretary said, “As Home Secretary I have no business to negotiate with a foreigner. In fact, because you abjured violence and gave us a written understanding that you would discuss within the frame work of the constitution, I am meeting you now.
Laldenga was showing the effects of the soft life. Months of enforced idleness in Delhi, interspersed with occasional talks with the Home Secretary or courtesy calls on the Home Minister, were showing its effects. He longed to be with his people but he would not go to Mizoram, fearing assassination. Nor could he go to London empty handed. He talked to the Home Secretary about his arifeand only laughter, who were in London. The Home Secretary learnt from his friend Swamy, the RAW official how they were being taken care of. As Christmas of 1985 approached Laldenga became increasingly homesick.
The Indian Government had made arrangement for his return to London to spend Christmas with its family. Swamy had even arranged for him to take Christmas presents for the family. Laldenga was delighted.
While Laldenga was away, RD Pradhan, the Home Secretary visited Aizwal. Lt. Governor Dubey looked after him and Lalthanhawla, the lunch for him where he met all his ministers. Besides, the Home Secretary met a number of political leaders. He found the Mizos warm, friendly and always smiling.
He flew in a helicopter all over the southern and eastern parts of Mizoram. He was fascinated by the emerald green forests covering rolling hills all along the Indo-Burma border. He did a reconnaissance by air of the areas where the MNA were expected to come out in the open. He thought of his task to work out a detailed scheme for Laldenga’s army to enjoy the fruits of freedom.
In the beginning of February 1986, there were reports that Laldenga was getting restive in London. He started making enquiries at the India High Commission as when the Government of India wanted him to return. When Swamy told the Home Secretary that in his desperation Laldenga may say or do something foolish, he spoke to PM. He sent a message and got Laldenga back in Delhi.
No longer, the Home Secretary had initiated talking about the scheme to enable Laldenga’s army to come out. Talking of the surrender of MNA personnel the former became conscious of the inner turmoil a ‘soldier’ must undergo when, after two decades of insurgency, he is asked to disarm. To ensure that there was no feelings of humiliation, the Home Secretary worked out a drill. As the MNA members crossed the border at Parva, situated in the southern most point, each person would enter a hut and deposit all his arms inside. He would come on and walk for a couple of hundred metres before being met by the Indian army personnel. The act of laying down arms was to be made in privacy so that there would be no humiliation.
Laldenga appreciated all the consideration shown to his army personnel and the acities that would be awarded to them, once they came out. The Home Secretary’s objective was clear : to let MNA’s so called commander-in-chief known that the Union Home Secretary was a reasonable and sensitive person, he respected a soldier – even a rebel. If the accord did not come about, it was because of the unreasonable attitude of their Chief, Laldenga.
There was yet another reason. It was not sure whether the MNA would honour the peace accord reached by Laldenga with Government of India. For several years, Laldenga was living in comfort, far away from his hard-core followers, who were somehow surviving for over two decades in one of the most in hospitable jungles of South-East Asia. His devited aide Zoramthang was at that time with the MNA and much would depend on his influence with so-called army officers. It was the assurance of the Home Secretary that Laldenga, through his trusted emissaries, could establish contact with Zoramthanga and get firm, assurances from the latter that all MNA personnel would come out with their arms and ammunition. Once that was assured, the Home Secretary would take firm steps to move forward to reach the accord.
In the beginning of June, the Home Secretary told Rajiv Gandhi that the time was ripe to put pressure on Laldenga. Arjun Singh, the Vice President of the Congress Party took responsibility to deal with Laldenga for political matters. An ace diplomat Arjun Singh kept him talking. On 25 June Rajiv Gandhi asked the Chief Minister Lalthanhawla to be present with his entire cabinet. A political agreement was signed between Arjun Singh, the congress (I) Vice President and Laldenga in the presence of the Congress President and the Chief Minister and his colleagues. These outlined the coalition arrangements in the Interim Advisory council to the Lt. Governor of the Union Territory. That was the first time Rajiv Gandhi met Laldenga since R.D. Pradhan, the Home Secretary took over negotiations, but refused to talk to him about the details of the ongoingnegotiations.
That morning, before signing the agreement with the Congress(I), Laldenga came over to meet the Home Secretary. He was in a happy mood. He was already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. He told the Home Secretary of high hopes and jubilation in Aizawl and other places in Mizoram. The Home Secretary took Laldenga to Buta Singh, the Home Minister and they assured him of an early solution to the pending issues. That evening the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs was briefed of the stage of negotiations. The Home Secretary was authorised to push ahead. Now a satisfactory political arrangement had been worked out.
The Home Secretary, RD. Pradhan was due to retire from service on 30th June, 1986. He also wanted to complete the task before laying down his office. He found himself captivated by Laldenga’s enigmatic personality and the easy informality of a Mizo who had, by that time begun to trust him.
June 27 was the birthday of RD. Pradhan, the Home Secretary. He invited Laldenga for a cup of tea and told him that in three days he would lay down office. It was for Laldenga to consider seriously whether he was willing to agree on the terms suggested to him. He assured the Home Secretary that he would go back to his legal advisor, SwarajKawshal and also speak to his colleagues, most of who were in Delhi. The Home Secretary did not hear from his for two days.
Around 2:30 PM on the 30th June, Laldenga came to see the Home Secretary alone. This was the first time he had done so. The Home Minister had done so. The Home Ministry had arranged a farewell function, when Buta Singh and other ministers had been invited.
The Home Secretary nostalgically recalled to Laldenga their first meeting in his office and about the mutual trust and understanding that they had developed, as two individuals. One cup of tea, he said, “Mr.Laldenga, I have fallen in love with your land and the Mizos. Perhaps one day, very soon, I can greet you and your family there.”
Laldenga became emotional. After a pause to clear his throat he said “I wish I could have concluded the accord with you.”
The Home Secretary said, “It’s too late. In three hours I will not only leave this office but stand retired from government service.” But suddenly he said, “Laldenga, if you are ready to be flexible, perhaps we can reach a settlement before I leave this office. You could later sign the accord with my success.” He added most sincerely“But as a friend, I ought to warn you that if you do not have a settlement with me, you may have to go on discussing pending issues with my successors for years to come. I do not know how many.”
Laldenga appeared anxious and said “Can I consult my colleagues and come back to you?” The Home Secretary replied, “Please go ahead but return before 4:30 PM. Thereafter I must go and bid farewell to the Home Minister and the Prime Minister and be back for the function in the Ministry.” Replied the Home Secretary.
Laldenga left in a hurry. The Home Secretary and his Joint Secretary felt that a breakthrough was in sight. The Joint Secretary adarised the Ministry officials to postpone the farewell to the next day, the reason of which is known to him only.
The Home Secretary spoke to the Home Minister and quickly briefed the PM. He was asked to persist in his efforts and not lay down office.
At 4:30 Laldenga came over with his team. In less than one hour they sorted out their differences of perception on outstanding matters and cleared a draft. A couple of really vital points were left for the final decision of the Prime Minister, on the clear understanding that none of the matters settled between them would be reopened by Laldenga in his meeting with the PM. The Home Secretary warned him that the clock was ticking away for him.
A short while later, both the Home Secretary and Laldenga went over to 7 Race Course Road, the PM quickly cleared the two pending points.
The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs met at short notice and approved the draft of the agreement, with the task accomplished, the Home Secretary bade goodbye to the Ministers. As he was about to take his final farewell of the PM, the latter said, “Pradhanji you have worked hard in shaping the accord. I want you to sign it before you retire. Do it within half an hour so that it comes over the 9:30 Prime Minister TV news. “The Home Secretary was deeply touched at the PM’s gesture.”
It was already 8:30 PM. The Home Secretary’s mind was very clear that under the Civil Services Rules, he already stood retired after office hours and thus he could not affix his signatures to a formal document. He mentioned the fact to the PM. He looked at the Home Secretary and said in all seriousness, “Why can’t I give you an extension?”
It was fully within his powers. But the Home Secretary had decided long back that he must retire on that day. He said to PM, “Sir, have publicly declared that you will not give any extension to any retiring office. I would beg to you not to make an exception in my case.”
Rahiv Gandhi was determined. He asked the Home Secretary to consult the Law Secretary in his presence. The Home Secretary got the Law Secretary over the RAX. He advised that if the Home Secretary had not formally handed over charge to his successor, he would stand retired only at midnight PM was happy. He asked the Home Secretary to hurry over to his office and sign the accord with Laldenga.
Rajiv Gandhi asked V. George to make all arrangements for Doordarshan to cover the historic event. He wanted to witness it on the TV screen.
By 9:00 pmLaldenga has arrived with his wife and his colleagues. A few ministers from Mizoram, including the Chief Minister Lalthanhawla were already seated at the tong table.
In the short time available, R. Vasudevan had efficiently, prepared the document titled “Memorandum of Settlement on Mizoram.” They had affixed their signatures respectively: Laldenga for the MNF, Lalthanhawla on behalf of the Mizoram government and the Home Secretary RD. Pradhan on behalf of the Government of India.
Laldenga said a few words into the microphone. The Home Secretary was overcome with emotion. Here is gist of what he said, “I thank the PM for allowing me to handle these negotiations. I am grateful to him for giving me the unique distinction to say farewell to my service career. I would like to convey over Doordarshan my grateful thanks to the nation for all the opportunities got to serve it and to seek fulfilment in my work. I wish the Mizo people all the happiness and prosperity on this joyous occasion.”
He was grateful to Laldenga as well. He paid his regard as such, “A realist, Laldenga had fought for a cause, patiently negotiated for an honourable settlement and clinched peace at the right moment.”
The Home Secretary walked out of Gate No. 4 of the North Block with a sense of relief. He was happy as he could help the PM to translate his hope and vision into accords.
In July, 1986, Rajiv Gandhi went to Mizoram himself in quest of peace. A seventy two hour tour of good will was the follow up to his Mizo Accord. Laldenga became the joyful leader of the interim governrment. With the surrender of arms by the Mizo National Front guerrillas, after 20 years of strife, Rajiv Gandhi promised statehood to Mizoram, the introduction of Mizo as an official Indian Language. Gandhi emphasized that the centre would not tolerate renewed violence. On August 7, 1986, the Indian government conferred statehood on the territory of Mizoram. The Mizos were also promised constitutional protection for the religious and social customs and laws of the Mizo people.
In implementing the Mizo Accord, there had arised some difficulties. Opposition parties like the Janata party, the BharatiyaJanata Party, The Communists, and Congress(S) opposed the Mizo Accord, condemning it as “buying peace from armed rebels” rather than seeing it as a victory for national interest.
On the other hand, Rajiv Gandhi’s conclusion of the Mizo Accord was built upon earlier unsuccessful efforts of both Indira Gandhi and Moraji Desai to bring peace to the region. Rajiv Gandhi had already taken a view publicly that welfare of the people was more important to him whether the Congress (I) remained in power in Mizoram or not. (Rajiv Gandhi – Accords & Discords – P.98) Much of the opposition to the Mizo Accord was based on politics, not on the Accord, which was the result of long years of consultation and negotiation. Rajiv’s success bringing an end to twenty years of sustained jungle warfare was a victory in itself. It is doubtful that a rebellion of such magnitude will occur again among the Mizos.