The Mizo Accord
- Part 1 -

L Memo Singh *

Pu Laldenga
Pu Laldenga :: Pix - Wikipedia/Jona vanchhong

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's had bourgeoned embryonic before it became 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 crossed 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 congress Mizo Union Party.Laldenga responded 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 fluorescent yellow 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 papers to R. Vasudevan, his Joint Secretary dealing with the North-East, the Home Secretary glanced through some 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 who was thorough 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.Parthasarathy 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. G.P. 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 to 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 suspicion 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 Laldenga was 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-bodied 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(Myanmar), 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 so as 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."

To be continued ...

* L Memo Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on July 19, 2014.

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