For this Mizo rebel sharpshooter, defeat is part of life (Profile)

December 8th, 2008 - 7:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Aizawl, Dec 8 (IANS) From a dreaded separatist guerrilla leader to becoming the chief minister of Mizoram twice, 64-year-old Zoramthanga has come a long way. He and his Mizo National Front (MNF) lost the assembly elections Monday, but victory and defeat have been a part of his chequered life. As a child he was scared to trek the five-km road to school each day as there were tigers on the prowl in his native village of Samthang in Mizoram. But he braved all odds and was aspiring to become an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer.

Just then he was handpicked by the late Laldenga, the founding leader of the MNF, to be member of a team that visited China, Bangladesh and Pakistan to look for support to fight a guerrilla warfare in the region.

In 1966, Zoramthanga joined the MNF, then a rebel group operating out of dense jungles in Mizoram and bases in Bangladesh and Myanmar to fight Indian soldiers.

Later, he became the second-in-command of the MNF under Laldenga until the group surrendered in 1986 following a peace accord signed with New Delhi.

Zoramthanga was among the best of sharpshooters during his underground days with his colleagues saying he never missed a target even during weapons training.

He lost Monday in both the constituencies he contested.

The stocky Zoramthanga does not regret joining the 20-year-old insurgency under tough conditions.

“The rise in insurgency in the northeast is not without reason as New Delhi responds to the people’s grievances only when there is an uprising,” says Zoramthanga. “I do not have any regrets.”

Interestingly, Zoramthanga is today better known for his role as a peacemaker in the region, having opened channels of communications with at least five different rebel groups in the northeastern region.

“I believe the insurgent groups have a reason and a cause and that is why they are dying and have gone underground. Whether we justify this or not is another thing,” Zoramthanga said.

“There is a feeling among the people that the only language New Delhi listens to is that of rebellion, and so there is this language of revolt in the region. For decades, New Delhi treated the northeastern states rather shabbily and this resulted in a sense of frustration among the people. This, in turn, bred insurgency.”

But he does not talk of guns and violence any more. “By and large, almost all the underground groups in the northeast are beginning to realize the necessity of solving their various grievances through peace talks and not through the barrel of the gun,” the chief minister said.

He says electoral politics is a different ball game altogether and believes democratic means to air grievances is the best way.

“We want development and to achieve that goal we need a strong and stable government. During the last 10 years of the MNF rule, we have been able to take up several development schemes,” Zoramthanga said.

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