If forgetfulness is bliss, then obviously some of the elderly persons in Mizoram would love to forget the date. But the memory of March 5, 1966 is still fresh in their minds. 52 years later, the incident still haunts them as on this day Indian Air Force struck and lobbed bombs to break rebel spine.
Vanlalruata, head of PRISM, a recently launched political party in Mizoram, recalled the memories still fresh in his mind. He also made a fresh demand that the Centre apologise to the people of Mizoram for such ‘inhumane strike’.
What the villagers saw on this day in 1966 was Indian Air Force bombers and fighters emptying their loads over Mizoram which was then part of Assam.
Villagers saw tiny planes flying up in the sky like a steady stream of droning beetles. Within minutes, they looked bigger. Seconds later, all of them dropped “things” that the now septuagenarian Mizos recalls, exploded after hitting the ground.
Mizo National Front rebels, fighting for a sovereign Mizoram, had overrun all government resistance, save Aizawl, where Assam Rifles personnel were putting up a dogged, but increasingly hopeless fight.
The IAF’s aerial fighters had been pressed on. They went on circling over the MNF rebel bases throughout March 4 and 5 till the army dispatched from Assam could creep into the embattled areas.
“Closing my eyes, I can still see those exploding balls, the deafening claps and the wail of those hurt. A handful of local administration officials told us that the planes belonged to the MNF allies. Later we understood it was a bluff. All important installations within Aizawl were bombarded like we were the most notorious enemy of Indian Union. Mission Veng, the locality which housed Alwin Roberts, a British missionary and the then principal of Pachhunga College was spared, Aizawl was in flames,” Prof JV Hluna, Mizoram BJP president recalled . He was a student of Class X then.
On February 28, 1966 the MNF issued a two-page “Declaration of Mizoram Independence” and launched simultaneous suprise attacks on all the security posts in the Mizo Hills that night. Within hours, the attack, code-named “Operation Jericho” was on in full swing.
All big towns and villages were captured and then the MNF overran army installations at Lunglei, Champhai and Saitual villages. It was on its way to capture Aizawl.
On March 2, the Assam government slapped a “disturbed area” tag on the Mizo Hills district, paving way for the aerial strikes. On March 4 and 5, IAF Hunter and Toofani fighters started pounding what they marked as MNF installation. Hnahlan, Tualbung and outskirts of Aizawl were carpet-bombed for two days on a trot.
“The attacks came in three waves. In the first wave, the planes used machine guns before dropping their payloads. On the second day, the strikes lasted for about five hours,” Prof JV Hluna, recalls.
“The entire population went helter-skelter and fled Aizawl city limits, the desperate cries of my mothers and sisters still haunt me,” Prof Hluna rued.
According to Joe Lalhmingliana, a retired IAF wing commander, Tezpur, which currently hangers the Indian Air Force war planes and Operational Flying Training Unit, was the base for the strikes. “It was the first time the Centre used its air force to quell a movement of any kind among its citizens. Goa was another story – it was a move to drive away the Portuguese,” Lalhmingliana says.
In a report submitted to the Assam Legislative Assembly on April 5, 1966, the then legilators Stanley DD Nichol Roys and Hoover H Hynniewta stated that the bombardments claimed civilian lives. “It was not possible to distinguish from the air who was loyal to the government or who was to the MNF rebel,” the duo observed.
The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi issued several press statements clarifying that the aircraft were deployed only to drop men and rations, but that seemed far from the facts. Indira Gandhi’s ration was mocked as being highly explosive by the local Mizo historians.
Student bodies and local organisations in Mizoram have dubbed this day as ‘Zoram Ni’ and observed the day as a Black Day and have submitted several memoranda to the Centre for an apology. The Centre is yet to respond till date.