It has now been more than two months since the ethnic violence broke out between Meiteis and Kukis leaving more than 130 people dead in the Northeastern state of Manipur. This violence has displaced more than 40,000 people and has only widened the old existing ethnic fault lines of the state. The state is still awaiting for normalcy to return.
The Manipur crisis increases the refugee burden in Mizoram.
While Manipur continues to burn, the ripple effect of this violence is now felt in the Northeastern region, particularly in the neighbouring state of Mizoram, where more than 12,000 displaced Kukis from Manipur have taken shelter. This has only increased the refugee burden of the state.
Brotherhood Between the Mizos and the Kukis
Since the military takeover in Myanmar, around 35,000-40,000 Chins have fled the country and taken refuge in Mizoram. Apart from that, more than 7000 Chin-Kukis have taken shelter in the state from Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) of Bangladesh after an armed conflict broke out last year between Bangladesh Army and Kuki-Chin National Army, a militant force demanding sovereignty for the Chin-Kukis living in the CHT.
The Mizos of Mizoram share an ethnic bond with the Chins of Myanmar, the Chin-Kukis of Chittagong Hill Tract and the Kukis of Manipur. They all belong to the Zo tribe and share cultural similarities and also practice the same religion, Christianity.
With more than 50,000 refugees, the state is now facing a major resource crunch. The state Chief Minister Zoramthanga had written two letters in May to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought Rs 10 crore as financial support for the displaced persons from Manipur living in the state. However, the Centre hasn’t yet sent the funds to the state. As a result, the state government has appealed to the people of the state for donations for helping the displaced persons of Manipur.
The state like other Northeastern states, barring Assam, has to mostly depend on the Centre’s financial support. The Centre can’t turn a blind eye towards the refugee crisis unfolding in the state. It has to understand the ethnic bond the Kukis share with the Mizos, who are worried about the consequences faced by their ethnic brethren the Kukis in Manipur.
The Return of the Old Demand for Greater Mizoram
The worry of the Mizos is reflected in the politics of the state, where the Assembly Elections are due late this year. The Mizo National Front, the state’s ruling party, has come out in support of the demand for a separate administration raised by 10 Kuki MLAs of Manipur. Even the BJP unit of the state had adopted a resolution supporting the demand of this separate administration in Manipur.
This shows how the alleged discrimination faced by the Kukis under the N Biren Singh-led BJP government of Manipur has been a cause of anguish among the Mizos of the state and as a result, the state unit of the saffron party too is forced to ally with the sentiments of the people.
Amid the emerging support among the Mizos for the demand of a separate administration for the Kukis of Manipur, state Chief Minister Zoramthanga, who is also the Mizo National Front (MNF) chief, has reiterated its party’s old demand for Greater Mizoram. This demand dates back to the 1960s when MNF was founded by Laldenga, who later went on to become the chief minister of the state in 1987. This demand aims to unify the Zo-dominated areas of not only Manipur but also Assam and Tripura.
Importantly, this was the second time Zoramthanga raised the issue of Greater Mizoram. Back in May too, he had raised concerns about it but was cautious then as he had said that Mizoram can’t interfere in the matters of Manipur and the demand of unification had to come from the Kukis of Manipur.
MNF’s Political Calculations
This demand for Greater Mizoram is similar in line with the demands of Greater Nagalim and Greater Tipraland. Such demands have the greater potential to strike an emotional chord with the respective communities and even bring rich dividends in election results as witnessed in the rise of Tripura’s regional party, TIPRA Motha, which emerged as a major political force by banking solely on the Greater Tipraland demand. In this year’s state assembly polls, fighting for the first time, it emerged as the second-largest party by winning 13 seats.
There are political reasons for MNF banking on Greater Mizoram. This year in the first Lunglei Municipal Council polls, MNF got a huge setback after it failed to open its account. The main Opposition party Zoram People’s Movement won all 11 seats of the council indicating that the anti-incumbency is slowly gaining space against the ruling party, which was quite confident to win the council polls. In terms of vote share too, ZPM, securing 49.31%, was much ahead of MNF, which got 29.4% votes. Lunglei is the second most populous town in the state after the capital city of Aizawl.
Battling five years of anti-incumbency and with signs of ZPM gaining strength, the developments in Manipur provide an opportunity for the MNF to exploit the sentiments of the Mizos by riding on the sympathy generated for their ethnic brethren Kukis of Manipur. That’s the reason Zoramthanga is reminding the Mizos about his party’s old unfulfilled aspiration of unifying the Zo tribes under the banner of Greater Mizoram.
Realising that MNF is likely to reap political benefits by focusing on the Greater Mizoram demand, the ZPM party’s chief ministerial face Lalduhoma has recently supported the dream of unification of all Zo tribes. This statement signals ZPM’s intentions to cut into the probable gains eyed by MNF by banking on Greater Mizoram. After all, the main Opposition party too doesn’t want to remain behind when it comes to the sentiments of the Mizos with elections around the corner.
Moving beyond Mizoram, the states of Manipur, Assam, and Tripura are unlikely to accept any changes to their territorial integrity for the cause of Greater Mizoram. Already in Manipur, the Meiteis, who are vehemently against the division of the state, have been on alert with Greater Mizoram gaining support among the prominent political parties of Mizoram adding to more polarisation in the strife-torn state, which is already sharply polarised among the community lines.
Political parties will try to exploit the sentiments of the Mizos for their own political gains as elections are due this year but the Centre shouldn’t forget that it has the responsibility to rise above the calculations of electoral politics to look into the refugee crisis of Mizoram and the issue of Greater Mizoram, which has the potential to disturb the stability of the region, gaining space in the political battle as a result of Manipur ethnic violence, which is also awaiting immediate effective political solutions from the Centre.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator and tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)