Bru repatriation took centrestage in Mizoram politics

Aizawl: The problem of Bru refugees lodged in relief camps in Tripura since 1997 continued to remain at the centrestage of politics and a social irritant in Mizoram during 2014.

Aizawl: The problem of Bru refugees lodged in relief camps in Tripura since 1997 continued to remain at the centrestage of politics and a social irritant in Mizoram during 2014.

Another issue that rocked the state during the year was relaxation of a prohibition law, in force in the state for 17 years, a move that invited massive opposition from the powerful church.

Border tension hit the state again after Assam officials allegedly dismantled a farm hut near the border in Buhchangphai village in Kolasib district in April prompting the state government to deploy two platoons of armed police.

The outbreak of the dreaded swine fever called Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) hit the state during March-April killing hundreds of pigs in the state and forcing the state veterinary department to cull scores of them.

The abduction of Deep Mondal of West Bengal, working under a telecom service provider, from a relief camp on November 23, 2013 by Bru goons and his captivity inside Bangladesh jungles since then caused serious consternation in the Mizo society.

Social pressure continued to mount as civil societies demanded his unconditional release and a large number of Young Mizo Association (YMA) volunteers even went to the Mizoram-Bangladesh border as a ?search party?.

Mondal was finally released on March 22 by the abductors and reunited with his family a few days later. The civil societies, angered by Election Commission's decision to allow Bru voters in the relief camps, outside Mizoram, began mounting pressures on the poll panel and the state government.

In February, major civil societies and student bodies submitted a joint memorandum to Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath urging him to delete names of Brus lodged in Tripura relief camps from Mizoram's voter lists.

The civil societies said that the Bru voters, despite several attempts by the centre, the Mizoram government and the Mizo people to repatriate them, refused to return to Mizoram and should be disenfranchised.

State chief minister Lal Thanhawla also wrote to Sampath in March on the same issue.

However, the Election Commission, on March 23 instructed the Tripura election officials to conduct polls for the Lok Sabha elections scheduled to be held in Mizoram on April 9 for the 11,243 Brus voters in the relief camps through postal ballots.

The civil societies in Mizoram were on the warpath over the E'?s decision and launched a massive protest rally in Aizawl on March 24 where the copies of the Bru voters? lists and the EC's instructions were burnt in front of the state election directorate office.

The civil societies even decided to boycott the election to the lone Lok Sabha seat and by-poll to the Hrangturzo assembly seat, vacated by Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla who won from two seats in the polls to the 40-member state legislature held on November 25, 2013.

NGO Coordination Committee clamped a 72-hour bandh from April 7 and obstructed all the polling parties to leave the district headquarters for election duty.

On the second day of the bandh, the EC decided to defer the date of election from April nine to April 11. The civil societies also called off the bandh after reportedly receiving assurances from the state government that all the Brus in the relief camps would be repatriated within three months after the election and also that name of Bru voters who remained in Tripura would be deleted from the lists.

In the election to the lone state Lok Sabha seat, sitting MP C L Ruala of ruling Congress defeated Robert Romawia Royte, combine candidate of the eight-party opposition alliance by a margin of 6,154 votes.

Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu of the Congress was elected in the Hrangturzo Assembly seat to become the first woman to enter the state assembly after a gap of 27 years and the only unmarried woman to make it to the Mizoram legislature.

As promised by the state government to the civil societies, the sixth phase of Bru repatriation was conducted during June 17 to 21 when 886 people belonging to 173 families returned despite obstruction from anti-repatriation elements.

The Mizoram Bru Displaced People?s Forum (MBDPF), the apex body of the Brus in the relief camps demanded increase of rehabilitation and resettlement package per family from Rs 85,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh and free ration for two years.

Even after officially closing the repatriation process, Bru families continued to return to Mizoram, and by September, a total of 2,136 people belonging to 427 families returned since June 17.

The proposal of the cash-strapped state government to legislate the new law to replace the Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act, 1995 invited massive opposition. Presbyterian Church of India?s Mizoram Synod, the largest church, organised a mass prayer in all its local churches across the state seeking God?s intervention on the prohibition issue.

The Mizoram Kohhran Hruaitute Committee (MKHC), a conglomerate of leaders of 14 churches led by the Presbyterian Church also issued a public statement condemning the state government's proposal to legislate a new liquor law.

However, the state assembly passed the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Bill, 2014, as introduced by Excise and Narcotics Minister R. Lalzirliana on July 10, replacing the 17-year old MLTP Act, 1995.

Lalzirliana said that the new liquor law would come to force during the current fiscal and the MLPC Rules was laid in the Assembly during the autumn festival in November.

The year also witnessed a number of changes in the gubernatorial post.

The then Governor Vakkom B Purushothaman, a veteran Congress leader from Kerala who was appointed on August 26, 2011, was transferred to Nagaland by the new NDA government at the Centre on July 6, but he refused to occupy the Kohima Raj Bhavan and submitted his resignation on July 11.

Kamla Beniwal took over on July 9, the day Purushothaman left Aizawl Raj Bhavan, but was sacked exactly after a month she was appointed.

Governor of neighbouring Manipur Vinod Kumar Duggal, a retired IAS officer and former Union Home Secretary who served in Mizoram as Additional District Magistrate and District Magistrate during 1973 to 1976 was appointed as the new governor on the day Beniwal received the marching orders from Delhi.

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