At 86, former brigadier still active in Mizo politics (Profile)

December 8th, 2008 - 9:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Aizawl, Dec 8 (IANS) At 86, Brigadier Thengpunga Sailo is among the oldest active politicians in the mountainous northeastern state of Mizoram. Age is no bar for the stocky former army commander. He had announced his retirement from politics a decade ago, but plunged in this year’s assembly elections. His reason: “I feel restless when I don’t see my agenda of fulfilling the basic needs of the people of Mizoram being implemented.”

In 1978, Sailo, then a dynamic retired army officer, filed his nomination as the chief ministerial candidate of a newly-formed Peoples Conference (PC) that swept the year’s Mizoram Union Territory Assembly elections.

Thirty years later, the Mizoram People’s Conference leader was pitched as the next Mizoram chief minister by the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), an electoral alliance he formed with another regional party Zoram Nationalist Party and civic organisation Zoram Kuthnathawktu Pawl.

Sailo was twice chief minister of Mizoram - a brief stint in his first tenure June 2-Nov 10, 1978, followed by a full term from 1979 to 1984. Mizoram was then a Union Territory. This time Sailo contested from the prestigious Aizawl West-II constituency.

Considered as the patriarch of Mizo politics, Brig. T Sailo commanded the prestigious 190 (Korea) Brigade in the army and after retirement launched his own political party, the People’s Conference, in the late 1970s.

In the May 1978 elections, his People’s Conference won 23 of 30 seats. But in November the same year, the party faced nine defections, allegedly engineered by legendary guerrilla leader Laldenga. Subsequently, President’s Rule was imposed on the state.

Known to be quite hostile to the Mizo National Front (MNF) that led a 20-year-old bush war, Sailo became the main stumbling block during the peace talks between the rebels and the Indian government. On a number of occasions, Sailo’s adamant posturing led to the break-down of the peace talks with Laldenga and the centre.

In the 1984 assembly elections, Sailo’s party lost the polls to the Congress. In the mid-seventies when Laldenga’s MNF-led insurgency in Mizoram was at its peak, Sailo came to Mizoram as a veritable saviour of the helpless Mizos.

The people were literally torn between the hammer and the anvil — the MNF guerrillas and the trigger-happy Indian Army. The frightened Mizos found a guardian in Sailo and elected him their chief minister in 1978, which he held continuously, except for a few months of President’s Rule, till 1984.

Among other things, the Sailo ministry had initiated the Aizawl city extension project, Bairabi hydel project and the Greater Aizawl Water Supply Scheme (GAWSS) Phase-I, which he alleged were never pursued by the successive governments of the Congress and the MNF.

“The primary needs of the people are power, rice cultivation and agricultural self-sufficiency. But successive governments failed to take up these needs,” Sailo says with a hint of anger, scarcely concealing his wish to become the chief minister once again.

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