I Dream of a Modern and Prosperous Mizoram

The Chief Minister

Interview: Courtesy of North East Sun, 15 January 2010

After a decade of being in the opposition, Lal Thanhawla and his Congress party in the last Assembly elections staged an impressive comeback with a thumping majority. On the occasion of completion of one year as a Chief Minister, North East Sun cornered Lal Thanhawla for this exclusive interview. Here we published the excerpts from the interview:

North East Sun: The Congress Government is completing one year in power. What are the major achievements and the remaining targets? What are the major areas of thrust? And plans to achieve the target?

Lal Thanhawla: We have been in power for just a year and in such a short period not much achievement can be expected. Even so, certain significant steps for development have been taken. We have succeeded in getting a larger Annual Plan size for 2009-10. The approved outlay for current year's Plan is Rs 1250 crore which is 25 per cent higher than the previous year's Plan. In fact, it is the highest step up so far. Major thrust where we hope to achieve substantial progress is the New Land Use Programme known simply as NLUP. It aims at helping the farmers to increase productivity and the rural population to get additional income through non-farm activities. The present method of cultivation i.e. slash and burn or jhuming has not sustained agricultural growth and NLUP is expected to replace it gradually by permanent and more productive system. The government at the centre and other economists have appreciated the scheme and the central government is expected to provide the required funds for this project. If this is successfully implemented throughout Mizoram. the programme may be a model for other similarly placed States of the country.

Our youth have great potential in various disciplines of sports. We are trying to develop them in their teen through a programme called "catch them young". The State does not, as yet have a stadium worth the name and during this tenure of ours, we hope to have one. In fact, we have started construction of Rajiv Gandhi Sports Stadium at Aizawl. We hope to set up a State Sports Academy and Sports Promotion Centre in all the districts. We are providing boxing rings in almost every district Headquarters. My government feels that the future of many of our youth lie in the field of sports. At the same time, we are encouraging various other games like football, hockey, archery, cricket and contact sports, etc.

We have framed Foreign Scholarship and Research Scholarship Rules to encourage our promising students to study abroad knowing very well that many aspiring hopefuls in various fields have had to give up their hopes due to monetary constraints. If everything goes well, we may hopefully get a unique vocational training institute at Aizawl to prepare the educated unemployed youth of the State to become self-employed and to earn a decent living.

Development of Power, sufficient at least to meet the need of our people, is a priority area. Tuirial Hydel Project (60MW), which was started during our earlier tenure and abandoned by our successor government, is being revived. In addition. 110 MW Tuivai Hydel Project is on the anvil. 460MW Kolodyne Project is also being implemented by National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). Easy access to and from mainland India is being ensured by bringing rail route to Mizoram. Road construction through Kaladan Multi Nodal Transport Project is being done under PMGSY, etc. My government also proposes to have easy connection with Myanmar up to Kaletwa which is also the nearest river port about 62 km into Myanmar.

Our aim is self-sufficiency in food grains in the shortest possible time through sustainable development of agriculture, horticulture and allied sector. We hope and plan to improve the quality of life of the people by means of improved road connectivity, sufficient power, clean drinking water, satisfactory level of health care and rural housing.

NES: Mizoram is achieving 100% literacy. How are you planning to utilize the educated Mizo youth?

LT: Admittedly Mizoram has attained a high degree of literacy. I want to point out that this does not automatically mean or indicate better quality of education. High degree of literacy and quality education are two different things. We are trying to improve the quality of education in the schools and colleges. To achieve this, we have constituted an Education Reforms Commission with members comprising of eminent educationists of our country. We are planning to set up institutions of excellence like Institute of Management, Institute of Mass Communication , Agriculture University, etc.

NES: Way back in 1984, exactly 25 years ago, you became the Chief Minister of Mizoram for the first time and peace was your main agenda. And with your sincere contribution and political sacrifice insurgency ended in Mizoram and it's a peaceful State today. Has the peace paved its dividends to the State?

LT: Peace has paid dividends in all areas of our life. We can now concentrate on all round development of the State which was not possible during more than twenty years of insurgency. We have to catch up with the rest of the country. Plans are on the anvil. With peace prevailing, we can now fulfill the aspirations of the people and remove causes of violence.

NES: Not only Mizoram but the entire North-East still remains a distant destination for the rest of the country. How do you think we can bridge the gap?

LT: The first important thing in this regard would be for the rest of the country to accept North-East and the people living in that region as an integral part of India and the larger Indian community. One way to do this would be through more inter-people contacts, cultural exchanges,interstate visits, etc. The most important step would be to accept that we are all Indians. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had put this in the proper perspective when he said, "India is a vast country with many flowers with different colours and fragrances...."

India is like that. If all of us take time to remember and appreciate it, emotional integration would be strengthened. All of us have to accept the fact that the great Indian society comprise of varied races like Dravidians, Aryans,Mongoloid and other tribes and to keep caste, creed and religion at bay.

NES: The DoNER Ministry was created for the speedy development for the North-East region. Has it served its purpose?

LT: I am of the opinion that the DoNER Ministry has been most useful in development of the North Eastern Region in many ways. It has supplemented the States' efforts to step up socio-economic development.

NES: Civil Aviation is yet to cover the region in a large scale. Even the NEC has failed to start its dedicated airline for the region. How it has affected Mizoram's communications and growth?

LT: Civil Aviation is yet to cover the region in a large scale. But, I am an optimist. My view is that if everything has been achieved, there would be no area left for us or our youngsters where we may give our mite for this vast and beautiful country of ours. It is true that the failure of Vayudoot Airlines, which was meant to cater to the requirements of the NE, was a disappointment. In Mizoram we have one state-owned airport and one or two more are being added.

NES: Mizoram has intended border trade with Myanmar and Bangladesh. What potentials Mizoram posses. And your proposal in that regard ?

LT: Border trade with Myanmar is being strengthened through mutual agreement. From Aizawl capital, the road accessibility has been improved from the border point, Roads, are being constructed within Myanmar to connect Tidim and Falam. A Customs Station is shortly being commissioned in Zokhawthar in Mizoram. Frequent meetings are held with Myanmar authorities and this has generated much economic activities.

Border trade with Bangladesh at Tlabung (Demagiri), which is Mizoram's nearest border with that country, and Thekamukh in Bangladesh are being developed as border trade posts. During the recent visit of the Bangladesh Foreign Minister to our country and his meeting with our External Affairs Minister, it was agreed that Bangladesh shall construct road up to Thekamukh and set up a land Customs Station also.

NES: The Bru refugees issue is still lingering on. How do you intend to solve it?

LT: We have always been agreeable to bringing back the genuine Bru citizens of Mizoram camping in Tripura as refugees. I feel that it would not be in the interest of the country and also of this State to rehabilitate all refugees from Bangladesh whenever they enter this side. They will have to be screened. Negotiations have started through bilateral and sometimes tripartite meetings for the repatriation of the genuine Bru citizens of Mizoram. A Road map has been prepared and sanctioned by the Home Ministry. It is now for the refugees to accept it and return.

NES: Music is another potential area in Mizoram. Like Nagaland are you planning to give music the status of industry?

LT: Music is a passion for the Mizos. We sing when a baby is born, when we worship and when someone dies. Music is part of our life. Therefore, music is very popular in Mizoram. The Government has an institute of Music and Fine Arts. Prospective youths are trained here. There are many popular singers who are performing regularly in vari ous parts of the country in reputed hotels in the metropolitan cities.

NES: Of late Mizoram is not producing many sports persons. What are the reasons?

LT: A number of Mizo footballers are playing in many premier Football clubs of the country though it has been some years since Mizoram produced the likes of Zoramthanga (Boxer) and Lalremsanga (Archer) although we have produced Jenny Lalremliani (Woman Boxer). Our youth have also won medals in various sports like kick-boxing, Wushu, Taekwando at the national and international events, etc and this from a people of around 10 lakh only.

NES: What is your dream of a modern Mizoram?

LT: Mizoram of my dream is a vibrant, prosperous State where peace prevails and the people, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, live side by side in harmony and prosperity. I dream of a corruption free society and a people fully developed to take their rightful place in the bigger Indian society and propelling our beautiful State and country forward. I would also like to see the government of the day being governed by people who, in turn, are governed by God. As Walt Disney said, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." My government has that courage.