Four days after the Myanmar military reportedly dropped a bomb in Mizoram’s Champhai district during an airstrike targeting a key rebel training camp, there is growing disquiet in the state over the silence of the Union and state governments.
Civil society groups in Mizoram called on the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre to respond to the violation of Indian airspace and to “safeguard the sovereignty of India”.
The NGO Coordination Committee, a collective of five influential civil society organisations and student bodies in the state, on Friday said, “We strongly condemn the violation of airspace and bombing of Indian territories by the Myanmar air force. We request the Government of India to safeguard the sovereignty of India. We will pursue the matter with the Union home minister for immediate action.”
Residents of Farkawn village in Champhai district had said that a bomb had landed in the village on Tuesday afternoon when the Myanmar military carried out strikes on Camp Victoria, the headquarters of the rebel Chin National Army, right across the Tiau river that divides the two countries. The Chin National Army is among many groups putting up an armed resistance against the Myanmar junta.
Mizoram Congress leader Dr Ngurdingliana called for a statement of reassurance from the Centre. “Mizoram is an integral part of India and all residents of Mizoram are Indian citizens. When they are endangered by foreign elements, like in the present incident, the government of India should at least come out with a statement and safeguard its citizens,” he said. He acknowledged, however, that the Indian government’s foreign policy is “very soft” because of concerns over Chinese influence in the region.
The Assam Rifles, which guards the India-Myanmar border, has not made an official statement on the matter. But an unidentified senior official of the Assam Rifles told PTI that the explosions did not occur on the Indian side of the border.
Villagers from Farkawn have angrily contested the claim. “They are lying because one bomb landed in our [Farkawn] area near the river. I saw with my own eyes that the bomb hit our soil,” said TC Lalhmangaihsanga, a member of the Farkawn village council. He added that a truck which he had driven to the bank of the river was damaged in the explosion. “My truck’s windshield broke from the impact,” Lalhmangaihsanga said. He said he saw Assam Rifles personnel going to the bomb-hit area.
The Young Mizo Association, an influential community organisation, accused the Assam Rifles of spreading false information. “Assam Rifles personnel have actually been seen on the spot,” said MC Lalramenga, who is the president of Young Mizo Association, Tuipuiral Group, in a text message to Scroll.in. Referring to a photograph of the alleged spot where the bomb hit the Indian soil, he said, “This is the point that they have seen, heard and touched.”
When Scroll.in contacted the Assam Rifles public relations officer for a response, he declined to comment, saying the Army was authorised to speak on the matter. The Army’s public relations officer did not respond to Scroll.in’s questions sent over phone.
Scroll.in also contacted the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson for a response to the Myanmar army’s reported violation of Indian airspace. The story will be updated as and when the ministry responds.
A balancing act
Mizoram shares a 510-km long porous border with Myanmar. Since 2021, when the Myanmar army seized power from the democratically elected government led by Aung Sang Suu Kyi in 2021, the conflict in the country has spilled across the border into Mizoram.
The state has provided shelter to over 30,000 Myanmar nationals fleeing the conflict. Most of them belong to the Chin community with which the Mizos share ethnic ties.
Mizoram’s lone Rajya Sabha MP K Vanlalvena, who belongs to the ruling Mizo National Front backed by the National Democratic Alliance, said the Indian government is unlikely to respond to the bombing.
“What shall they [Indian government] do? In 2021 and 2022, I asked officials of the Union home ministry and the external affairs ministry several times to take action against the Myanmar government. But they are good friends,” he said.
He said the Indian government could not afford to antagonise the Myanmar army to protect its own strategic interests. “The Indian government needs the help of the Myanmar army to eliminate Northeast militants in Myanmar. In the same manner, Myanmar Army needs the Indian government,” Vanlalvena said.
Observers said India is unlikely to embarrass the Myanmar government, given its diplomatic interests. “Even if one of the bombs landed in Indian territory, the Indian government is unlikely to accept it publicly as it shows a serious breach of territorial sovereignty and could trigger a diplomatic row with the Myanmar military regime,” said Angshuman Choudhury, an associate fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research. “New Delhi doesn’t want that, as it has developed a close working relationship with the military junta over the last one year to secure its own economic and strategic interests,” he added.
Sense of anxiety
Along the border, especially in and around Farkawn, the bombing has left fear and apprehension among the Mizo people. “The Farkawn village council president called me and reported that the people of the village are angry and afraid to go to the river bank,” said MC Lalramenga. “The lack of transparency from New Delhi’s side might create a sense of anxiety amongst them,” Choudhury said.
For a while now, the Mizoram government and the Centre have also been at loggerheads over the state’s humanitarian assistance to Chin refugees from both Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Union government is unwilling to host refugees on Indian soil but Mizo society has opened its doors to people from across the border. “We are all families and relatives,” said Vanlalvena.