Zoramthanga’s Protest Against Manipur Violence Symbolises Brotherhood and Unity

The Mizoram CM's protest sends a strong message to Manipur that a crime against Kukis means a crime against Mizos.

7 min read
Hindi Female

Amidst the outrage and protests across India against the inhumane act committed against two Kuki women by a mob in Manipur, an image of Mizoram Chief Minister (CM) Zoramthanga sitting in at the protest has triggered another outrage – but in Manipur.

The protestors, under the aegis of ‘My Manipur’ burnt an effigy of Zoramthanga to condemn his participation and his ‘provocative’ statements made against Manipur CM Biren Singh. To understand why the Mizoram CM made a move like this, one has to analyse several layers of narratives and a linear approach will not help us.  

On 25 July, a conglomerate of five major civil society organisations in Mizoram called ‘NGO Coordination Committee’, organised a solidarity march in various parts of the state. Hundreds of people clad in black clothes turned up on the streets to demonstrate their “solidarity with Zo ethnic tribe of Manipur”. 

In the crowd was CM Zoramthanga, clad in ‘Thangchhuah kawr,’ a dark blue shirt with a red line, which was usually worn by knights according to the traditional customs of the Mizo people. 

His choice of clothing presents him as a knight in armour, ready to battle for his people. He was not alone at this protest, as he was accompanied by Deputy CM Tawnluia, state ministers, and more significantly, leaders of opposition parties. His participation can be seen as a powerful move to declare an open resistance against CM Biren Singh and the BJP-led central government. 

After all, no state would want interference from others in the ‘internal matter’. The fact that Zoramthanga openly participates and provides refuge to the Kukis would irk CM Singh. It also denotes that it is not just an ‘internal matter’ for Mizoram, it is a matter of brotherhood, unity, and protection.

This is to show that even though separated by State borders, they are connected by ethnic ties. Now that the Kuki-Zo people have renewed demands for a separate administration from Manipur, attempts to resolve the current crisis are more challenging. And considering the ethnic ties, it is not exactly known what Mizoram’s role will be, but the spillover effect will be felt.


'When NDA is Against Interests of Minorities...'

In an interview to local media during the rally, CM Zoramthanga had stated that he will continue to “mount pressure” on the Centre and the Manipur government to restore peace and normalcy in the state. 

His participation in the rally sends a strong message to the Manipur government and CM Biren Singh that a crime against Kukis means a crime against the Mizos and they will not sit idle. 

Moreover, it was also a symbolic gesture to give a stern warning to the central government that they may be allies through the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) but the concerns of the Mizos come first. This asserts that they will not subscribe to the policies and objectives of the BJP-led alliance. While the state leaders often refrain from a public display of allegiance in testing times, Zoramthanga made a bold move to show that his allegiance is towards his people.  

He stated “When the NDA’s policy is against the interest of minorities and the larger population, we strongly oppose it.”

This asserts that they will not subscribe to the policies and objectives of the BJP-led alliance. While the state leaders often refrain from a public display of allegiance in testing times, Zoramthanga took a bold move to show his allegiance towards his people.

It is also important to note that his party Mizo National Front (MNF) did not have an easy run since they took office in 2018. Marred with various controversies such as the Ropeway-skywalk scam where the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has said that the Mizoram government incurred a wasteful expenditure of Rs. 15.09 crore on the installation of cable car or rope-way in Aizawl and is currently pending in the Aizawl Bench of Gauhati High Court.

The expulsion of former Minister Dr Beichhua and sitting MLA for ‘anti-party activities’ and ‘breach of discipline’ led to mass resignation from the Siaha District MNF membership and will also likely have a significant impact in the upcoming elections.

Apart from this, CM’s younger brother Mr Vanlachhuana, along with five others, was convicted for receiving government compensation through fictitious claims by forging fake land passes and authority letters in February this year.

In another embarrassing case for the party, two prominent student bodies, Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and Mizo Student Union (MSU) held a protest against the alleged nepotism indulged by Assembly Speaker Lalrinliana Sailo and Assembly Secretary Lalhmahruaia Zote in the recent recruitment conducted by the State Assembly Secretariat. Due to these, it can also seem like his party is in damage control mode.


Hence, his motives may be questionable considering Mizoram is gearing up for the Assembly Election in the later part of this year. However, the fact that both ruling and opposition parties participated in the rally together sends a message that despite their differences, they are united over the issues that involve the Mizo people.

Irrespective of political party affiliation, Mizoram political parties tend to support each other in issues concerning the Mizo people. This was evident during the Assam-Mizoram border boundary dispute where a boundary committee including all political parties and NGOs, headed by Deputy Chief Minister Tawnluia, was formed. So far, there have been no statements made by the opposition parties against the state government over the Myanmar refugee crisis.

Dealing With Himanta in Assam and Refugees From Myanmar

During his five-year tenure as the CM, Zoramthanga has had to deal with three major conflicts: the Assam-Mizoram Border conflict, the Myanmar refugee crisis, and the ongoing Meitei-Kuki ethnic clash. All of these conflicts are issues pertinent to Mizo nationalism, an ideology propagated by the MNF. It provides opportunities to invoke nationalism and unite Zo-ethnic communities in asserting their identity, protecting their land and showing a united front against ‘outside forces.’

It also provides a massive opportunity for political parties to test each other's ability to rule in times of crisis.  Zoramthanga is able to seize those opportunities and display his leadership abilities by invoking emotions and uniting the public in putting up a common fight in the name of ‘Mizo nationalism.’   

Mizoram has a very tense relationship with Assam, especially after a violent border clash emerged in the beginning of March 2018. The Assam-Mizoram border conflict witnessed two very different administrations: the early 2018 conflict under the leadership of former Congress CM Lal Thanhawla and the recent ones under CM Zoramthanga. Both leaders displayed a different approach to dealing with border issues. 

Much to the dismay of the public, the Lal Thanhawla government took a ‘milder approach,’ attempting to resolve the issue through dialogue. However, when a massive border clash took place in July 2021, Zoramthanga took a more drastic approach against his counterpart CM Himanta Biswas Sharma by proclaiming a firing order against the Assam police’s encroachment into the Mizoram territory.

The push-back led to the death of six army personnels from the Assam side, followed by a massive war of words in Twitter between the two CMs. This again, provided a grand opportunity to the MNF government to assure the Mizo people that they still have that underground fighter spirit to protect its people and land.

The Myanmar refugee crisis also sheds light on the Mizoram chief minister's attitude towards the central government. Mizoram shares a 510-km-long border with Myanmar and thousands of people, mostly, from the bordering areas have crossed the border to take refuge in parts of the country. The refugees largely belonged to the Chin community who have close ethnic and kin ties with  strong historical and cultural connection. 

From 2021 till now, which reports state that there are over 40,000 refugees living in Mizoram. While the central government ordered the Mizoram government to prevent illegal immigration from Myanmar and ensure speedy deportation of refugees, Zoramthanga called it ‘unacceptable’ and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to provide them asylum on humanitarian grounds. 

He said that the areas in Myanmar bordering Mizoram are inhabited by the people of Chin community who share ethnic ties and have had close contact with the people of the state even before India became Independent. His stance on this issue echoed the sentiments of the people of Mizoram and the Church, projecting an image of a humanitarian and father figure for the Zo-ethnic groups.


An Ally on His Own Terms

The ongoing Kuki-Meitei ethnic conflict has a direct impact on Mizoram as it holds a strong ethnic connection with the Kukis. Since the conflict started in May 2023, the report states that over 10,000 Kuki-Zomi people have taken refuge in different parts of Mizoram. Up until last week, Zoramthanga had only been urging the Manipur CM to restore normalcy but the lid came off when a video of two Kuki women being paraded and gang-raped surfaced. It prompted an immediate response, not only from the Mizoram public but also from the political parties.

The fact that CM Zoramthanga participated in the rally received huge applause from the Mizo people but strong opposition from both the citizens and leaders of Manipur. Biren Singh has warned the Mizoram government not to interfere in his state’s internal matter, but it is unlikely that Zoramthanga would just act as an onlooker. In fact, it will only encourage him to take stronger action against his counterpart.

Zoramthanga’s participation in a rally is significant in many different ways. It is a symbolic gesture to assure the Zo-ethnic people of his commitment to protecting them, to reiterate to the central government that he is an ally but on his own terms and to display zero tolerance towards anti-Mizo movements.

In times of crisis, a leader is expected to step up and Zoramthanga delivered it in a quiet yet powerful manner. However, it is also important to note that CM Zoramthanga needs to take a cautious approach since Mizoram already has an ongoing conflict with its neighboring states, a large influx of Myanmar refugees, and crunched finances among other issues that require a multi-dimensional approach with the central government and neighbouring states.

Speaking to the media during the rally, he already stated that he has no immediate plans to pull out of NDA but is not submissive to all its policies. Would the NDA continue to overlook his bold gestures and statements? His gesture may provoke unwanted action from its counterparts or trigger another violent outburst during this ongoing peace talk. After all, peace is all we yearn for and it is hard-earned.

[Dr Embassy Lawbei is an Assistant Professor at CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore. She was a former journalist, working in Mizoram. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.]

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Topics:  Manipur violence 

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