Thursday, April 9, 2015

Playing Good Samaritans for Reangs

Good Samaritan initiatives from the governments especially in the context of North East India are often bottled up through political interference and bureaucratic clumsiness. Thus often these two mix-up and resemble together a story of tragedy in the form of lopsided implementation of policies and draining out huge government funds through corruption.

The repatriation of Brus also called Reangs, now settled in Tripura, into Mizoram --- the place where they belonged originally at least till two decades back - to many is now almost a money racket.Thus when the Mizoram government chalked out a roadmap earlier this month for resumption of repatriation of Brus lodged in the six relief camps in neighbouring North Tripura district and submitted a proposal for the same to the centre, usual suspicion about corruption flourished. 

The repatriation of Brus, earlier known as Reangs, living in Tripura camps since October 1997 has now become almost a money-spinning racket. But there was suspicion of there being more to it than met the eye. Is the Congress-led Lalthanhawla government serious about it? And more importantly, will the Mizos welcome the Brus back?
If the needle of suspicion, especially on the corruption issue, points to the Mizoram bureaucracy and political class on the one hand, on the other there is  talk about those who matter in Tripura wanting to retain the Bru refugees so that the money-spinning mechanism continues unabated. 

Both the states, however, deny that there is any foul play on their respective parts. “Such accusation is baseless and malicious,” a Tripura government official said.
More than 40,000 Brus fled Mizoram in October 1997 following ethnic violence and took shelter in Tripura. But Aizawl says “there was no ethnic riot”. It claims the trouble started after a forest guard was killed by Bru National Liberation Front cadres.
Reang women performing Hozagiri dance

In fact, a book penned by a senior police official in Mizoram says even for the 'exodus' of Brus from Mizoram into Tripura in 1997, a false alarm or fear scenario was created by the influential Bru National Liberation Front, an armed wing of the community. 
Even as Mizos reportedly had burnt down few Reang inhabited villages, local Mizos were little perplexed at the BNLF move when they forced their own people to leave Mizoram. "It was always a puzzle and a difficult one to understand that while the Brus had raised a political demand for creation of Autonomous 
District Council for the Western Belt of Mizoram, at the same time BNLF and another influential body the Bru National Union instructed Reang inhabitants in Mizoram should migrate to Tripura immediately.  The inherent inconsistency of this move show Brus wanted to create a powerful political as well as administrative base for the entire Reang population," says a source in Mizoram government.

Even as Mizos burnt down a few Bru-inhabited villages, local Mizos were a little perplexed at the BNLF forcing their people to leave Mizoram “(The) Brus had demanded creation of an autonomous district council but at the same time BNLF and another influential body, the Bru National Union, instructed Brus to migrate to Tripura. This shows the Brus wanted to create a powerful political and administrative base for the Bru population,” according to a source in the Mizoram government.

The BJP-led Narendra Modi government has now set the ball rolling. The repatriation package, worked out by the Lalthanhawla-led Congress government, therefore, needs to be seen in this perspective. Many in North Block are surprised at the speed at which the Mizoram government has moved this time around. Reportedly, even Tripura officials were virtually caught napping.
The truth of the matter is that Union home minister Rajnath Singh is also under pressure from the Sangh fountainhead, the RSS, to ensure proper, speedy rehabilitation. In July last year, at a meeting between RSS pracharaks working in the North-east and a group of Union ministers led by RSS point-man Nitin Gadkari, the Bru-Mizo conflict figured prominently. The RSS had told the Union home ministry that adequate instructions should be issued to the Mizoram government which is “not very keen” to help the “dislocated minority tribals”. 
An RSS leader pointed out that even during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls the Mizos had protested against giving “postal ballot” rights to Brus in their relief camps. 
Some in Mizoram and also in Tripura believe that the Lalthanhawla government will be serious this time. 
Many apprehend that serious social and ethnic problems will arise if the Mizoram government takes back the refugees “with dignity”.
Two CMs seldom meet

This “dignity” factor is simply easier said than done or can be ensured. The ethnic divide between the two groups is too wide. Mizos feel the BNU and BNLF want to bring about a “forceful concentration” of the Bru population who are presently scattered in Mizoram, Tripura and Assam, to create a “Riangland” in northern Tripura where they already have a sizeable concentration of Reangs. Tripura’s Marxist leaders, too, are apprehensive of this factor.
 The Lalthanhawla government seems to have made its position clear that it will accept only those who can prove their bona fides as Mizoram residents. There was an agreement on the issue between the government, all political parties and the civil societies. It was agreed that only those whose names appeared in the 1995 voters’ lists should be accepted, they say. 

This is another contentious issue. And it was with these issues in mind that the Mizos protested last year over giving “postal ballot” rights to the Brus. 

The Mizos feel the Brus have been trying to ignite an “insurgency” movement in Mizoram. The apprehension was that if the Brus were allowed to vote “from the relief camps”, it would only lend “legitimacy” to the intent of the Brus about strengthening their toehold on Mizo soil.

A malignant ambience of ethnic and inter-tribal clashes is certainly a reality of  North-east India. Sadly, this complexity is beyond the comprehension of the ivory tower policy-makers in New Delhi.
Blogger with a senior Mizoram Govt. funtionary

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