By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
The Mizoram Government and the H. Zosangbera faction of the Hmar People’s Convention-Democratic (HPC-D-Zosangbera) on April 2, 2018, after six rounds of talks, signed a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) at the State Guest House in Aizawl. The MoS was signed by Chief Secretary Arvind Ray on behalf of the State Government; and HPC-D-Zosangbera ‘president’ H. Zosangbera. The talks began on August 10, 2016.
According to the MoS, a statutory body named the Sinlung Hills Council (SHC) will be formed through an Act of the State Legislature. The SHC will comprise 14 members of whom 12 would be elected and two nominated, to be headed by the Chief Executive Member (CEM). The proposed body will reportedly have more administrative autonomy to carry out developmental works in 31 villages across three Assembly Constituencies in Mizoram: Chalfilh, Tuivawl and Serlui.
A similar statutory body, the Sinlung Hills Development Council (SHDC), had been formed on May 8, 1997, after the signing of the accord between the original Hmar People’s Convention (HPC) and the Government of Mizoram on July 27, 1994. However, the provisions that were listed in that accord were never fully implemented by the State Government. Lalparkunga, the Secretary of the SHDC’s Implementation Demand Committee, had thus observed on February 12, 2016,
22 Years have lapsed since the signing of Mizoram-HPC accord in 1994 but no measures have been sincerely taken to implement terms of the peace accord and we are dismayed at the Government’s indifference.
Earlier, the founding ‘president’ of HPC-D, Lalhmingthang Sanate, reportedly signed a “Deed of Agreement” and merged HPC-D with the Kuki National Organisation (KNO).
Subsequently, in an ‘emergency meeting’ held on September 29, 2011, those opposing the decision, decided to ‘impeach’ and replace Lalhmingthang Sanate with H. Zosangbera as its ‘president’.
The HPC-D thus split into two: HPC-D-Zosangbera and HPC-D-Sanate. Lalhmingthang Sanate was arrested by the Assam Police on February 21, 2018, on charges of murder of Darthang aka Nobar Sanate, ‘finance secretary’ of HPC-D- Zosangbera. Darthang was killed on January 27, 2018, at Lakhipur in the Cachar District of Assam.
The April 2, 2018, MoS, however, does not guarantee complete respite from the Hmar problem. HPC-D-Zosangbera has no doubt expressed satisfaction with the MoS, but in a statement released on April 4, 2018, in noted:
Initially HPCD movement was confined to Mizoram, but the need to safeguard the interests of Hmars in Manipur and Assam has propelled the organisation to cross the State boundaries and the HPCD operatives have to work as per the interests of Hmars settling in the three States…
Significantly, according to the 2011 census, a substantial Hmar population resides in Manipur (48,375), Assam (15,745) and Meghalaya (1,797). Mizoram has 29,587 Hmar people.
The Mizoram Government had initiated talks with both the factions of HPC-D who were demanding an Autonomous District Council (ADC) for Mizoram’s Hmar population in the Hmar-dominated areas, under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. However, the Government had decided that no new Autonomous District Councils were to be created in the State, and made this a precondition for any talks with insurgent formations. While the HPC-D-Zosangbera, after initial opposition, reportedly accepted the precondition, HPC-D-Sanate rejected the precondition and walked out of the talks. An unnamed State Home Department official on September 4, 2017, thus stated,
The Mizoram Government has decided not to constitute any more autonomous District Council for any tribe in the State. We are holding peace talks with the HPC-D’s major faction led by H. Zosangbera. This faction had abandoned its Autonomous District Council demand before talks were started with the State government last year.
The initial phase of the Hmar insurgency, led by the Hmar People’s Convention (HPC) started in the late 1980’s in the Hmar inhabited areas of the States of Mizoram, Assam and Manipur, initially demanding a ‘Hmar homeland’. On July 27, 1994, after nine rounds of talks, the first MoS with HPC was signed at Aizawl. The Sinlung Hills Development Council (SHDC) was agreed upon, as part of the MoS, and was later constituted in 1997. At least 308 HPC militants had then surrendered along with their arms.
In the meantime, a disgruntled section within HPC parted ways and formed HPC-D, led by Lalhmingthang Sanate. The main demand of the group was Sixth Schedule status to the Hmar areas. The formation of HPC-D led to the rise of another violent movement in the region, and fuel was added to the fire by the failure to implementation the MoS with HPC.
HPC-D entered into a Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the Government of Mizoram on November 11, 2010, for six months. However, the SoO agreement expired on May 11, 2011, and was not extended by the Mizoram Government on the grounds that HPC-D was violating SoO ground rules. Thereafter, the HPC-D split occurred in September 2011.
On January 31, 2013, HPC-D-Zosangbera signed another SoO, but this was, again, not renewed as talks ended in a deadlock. Talks were revived again in 2016, culminating in the signing of the MoS on April 2, 2018.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 66 insurgency-related fatalities linked to the undivided HPC-D (37 civilians, five Security Force personnel, and 24 militants) have been reported from three States – Mizoram, Manipur, and Assam – between 1999 and September 29, 2011. 49 of these fatalities (29 civilians, one trooper, and 19 militants) were reported from Assam, followed by Mizoram with 11 fatalities (seven civilians and four militants) and Manipur with six fatalities (one civilian and five militants). Since September 30, 2011, another five fatalities linked to HPC-D have been reported: four fatalities linked to HPC-D-Zosangbera and one linked to HPC-D-Sanate.
The April 2, 2018, MoS is a significant step forward, but does not entirely resolve the Hmar imbroglio in Mizoram. In the implementation of the MoS, great care will be needed in accounting for the arms with the rebels, and the identification and rehabilitation of the surrendered militants. It is also crucial that the State Government push the Sanate faction to accept the MoS as well. Crucially, the Government needs to accommodate the concerns of minor tribes within the State in order to reduce social tensions.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management