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Have we forgotten Mizoram?

Have we forgotten Mizoram?
India’s northeast is the proverbial Cinderella of Mother India. Or, a thorn in her flesh. The northeast makes news in the national media only when there is a bomb explosion, or a train blast or a blowing up of oil pipeline or killing of security force personnel by any of the dozen or so militant outfits active in the region.

So there was nothing surprising that no ‘national’ TV channel thought it necessary to cover the recent elections to the Mizoram State Assembly. The Congress victory in the state was only mentioned, in passing, as a consolation prize. It was a second straight win for Chief Minister Lalthanhawla. The Congress bagged 33 of the 39 seats for which polls were held. The party’s one-time challenger, the Mizo National Front or MNF had to rest content with just five seats. One seat went to the Zoram Nationalist Party candidate Joseph Ralte who won the Champhai north seat. Repolling has been ordered in one seat.

To understand the significance of the Congress victory, certain facts have to be kept in mind. The small state has seen a fast population growth – from 8,88,573 in 2001 to 10,91,014 in 2011, or a 22.78 per cent increase against the national growth rate of 17.64 per cent. What is more, the state’s urban population is higher than its rural population. Capital Aizawl, once a quiet and sleepy town, has become a very congested place where one finds the latest models of motor cars
zooming past the pedestrian.

The fast population growth has created an acute unemployment problem. According to latest available figures, there are over 64,000 unemployed on the live registers of the employment exchanges. The meaning of this figure becomes clear only when it is known that there are only four employment exchanges for the seven districts of the state. In literacy rate, Mizoram stands second the in country – 93.4 per cent or just below Kerala’s 95.5 per cent. There is a burgeoning growth of literate youth in a state which has no industry and a very small agricultural base. Meeting the growing aspirations of the educated youth and providing them jobs is the biggest challenge to any party ruling the state.

According to official statistics, even now 70 per cent of the people in Mizoram is dependent on agriculture. Until a few years ago, agriculture meant the traditional jhum or ‘slash-and-burn’ cultivation which destroys the topsoil and makes the land unfit for cultivation for several years. It is only recently that concerted efforts have started to introduce ‘terrace’ or wet cultivation. Significant successes have been achieved. The area under jhum cultivation has come down from 44,947 hectares in 2007 to 28,735 hectares in 2011, while that under terrace cultivation has gone up from 9,594 hectares in 2007 to 12,130 hectares in 2011.

Then there are ethnic problems. Mizos (earlier called Lushais) constitute the largest segment of the population but there are many other tribes as well, like the Reangs, Paites, Raltes, Gangtes, Hmars, Kukis and the Pawis. The Pawis or Lais are a numerically large tribe and live in the south-eastern part of Mizoram contiguous to Myanmar. They have their own Autonomous District Council. To further complicate the situation, there is a large number (no reliable data are available) of Chins from Myanmar illegally living in Mizoram. There is a small Bengali population from Bangladesh also but their number is very small because by their features they can be easily identified in a predominantly tribal population. For its small size, Mizoram presents a complex ethnic composition and a host of other problems.

The state has a history of an armed uprising which was led by Laldenga of the Mizo National Front in March 1966. The Aizawl town, then the district headquarters, was overrun by the MNF. Only a small Assam Rifles outpost at one corner of the town held out. After that the insurgency continued till Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed a peace accord with Laldenga in June 1986. The two-decade long insurgency ended, Mizoram became a full-fledged State and opened a new chapter for development and progress. Today, Mizoram occupies a strategic position in India’s Look East policy. The Kaladan Multi-Model Transit System India is building at a cost of Rs. 550 crore will pass through Mizoram.

It will connect the Sittwe port of Myanmar to Kolkata and other ports in India’s eastern seaboard and provide an alternate and cheaper route for transport of goods to north-east India. Once completed, it will also enable India to move troops to the north-eastern region quickly in case of emergency. On a map, Mizoram may look like a small dot in the vast landmass that India is, but its importance cannot be assessed by its territorial size. Uninterrupted peace and undisturbed political stability in Mizoram is a must.

IPA
Barun Das Gupta

Barun Das Gupta

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