What The Opposition By Powerful Mizo NGOs To ‘Non-Mizo’ Chief Secretary And DGP Says About The State

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jun 2, 2022 07:16 PM +05:30 IST
What The Opposition By Powerful Mizo NGOs To ‘Non-Mizo’ Chief Secretary And DGP Says About The State The state’s political establishment--both the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Congress--have not opposed the protests.
Snapshot
  • While a number of prominent Mizos have opposed the protests against the Chief Secretary and the DGP, such voices seem few and far between.

A clutch of powerful civil society organisations in Mizoram have been demanding the removal of senior IAS officer Renu Sharma from the post of chief secretary of the state and her replacement with a Mizo IAS officer. The reason: she is not a Mizo and cannot converse fluently in that language.

Sharma, a 1988 batch AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram & Union Territories) cadre IAS officer, was appointed chief secretary of Mizoram by the Union Government on October 28 last year.

A day after this announcement, Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah urging him to modify the order and appoint a Mizo as the state’s senior-most bureaucrat.

Just before Renu Sharma, who was serving as Additional Chief Secretary to the Delhi government at that time, was named as the next chief secretary of Mizoram, the state government appointed additional chief secretary J.C.Ramthanga, to the coveted post (of chief secretary).

Ramthanga, a Mizo, is a 1989 batch IAS officer of the Manipur cadre. He was on inter-cadre deputation to Mizoram as additional chief secretary to the Mizoram chief minister.

Chief minister Zoramthanga, in his letter to Amit Shah, had said that none of his ministers know Hindi and some even had problems understanding English. “The Mizo people, by and large, do not understand Hindi, and none of my Cabinet Ministers understand Hindi, some of them even have problems with the English language. With such a background, a Chief Secretary without the knowledge of a working standard Mizo language will never be an effective and efficient Chief Secretary,” Zoramthanga said in his letter to Amit Shah.

The Union government chose to ignore the chief minister’s request and Sharma took charge as the chief secretary of the northeastern state on November 1. But many, especially the powerful students’ bodies and NGOs in the state were unhappy.

Five of these apex civil society organisations and students’ unions--the Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA), Mizoram Upa Pawl (MUP), Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP), Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MXP) and Mizo Students’ Union (MSU)--had been writing to Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, as well as to state governor and senior officials in the Union government asking for replacement of Sharma with a Mizo IAS officer.

The bodies, under an umbrella organisation called the NGO Coordination Committee (NGOCC) headed by the CYMA, announced last week that it would picket the chief secretary’s office from May 31 (Tuesday) in order to prevent Sharma from attending office and carrying out her tasks as state chief secretary.

But Sharma’s official visit to Delhi made the NGOCC cancel its plans. NGOCC chairman and CYMA president R Lalngheta said that since Sharma is on a visit to Delhi, the plans to picket her office have been cancelled.

Lalngheta said that while the NGOCC has nothing personal against Sharma, it opposes her appointment as chief secretary of the state since there are eligible Mizo officers who can be appointed to the post. He also said that the protest is directed against the Union Government for ignoring repeated pleas by Mizoram to appoint a Mizo IAS officer as chief secretary.

“If we have a Mizo as the chief secretary, common citizens and everyone from the lowest-level government servant to the highest officer can approach the chief secretary and make themselves understood without any problem in the absence of a language barrier,” said Lalngheta.

The CYMA president said a decision on launching the agitation would be taken after Renu Sharma returns from New Delhi. The NGOCC is also demanding the replacement of incumbent Director General of Police (DGP), Devesh Chandra Srivastava, with Mizo IPS officer David Lalrinsanga.

The NGOCC’s contention is that Srivastava and Lalrinsanga are batchmates (1995 batch of IPS) and the latter would make a much more effective DGP since he is a Mizo. Lalrinsanga is now posted as Inspector General at the BSF frontier headquarters in Rajasthan.

Severe shortage of Mizo IAS officers

But it is not easy to appoint Mizos to senior positions in the state. Despite the state having a commendable literacy rate, it has not produced a single IAS officer over the past few years. The last Mizo to crack the UPSC and get into the IAS was Grace Lalrindiki Pachuau, the daughter of former state chief secretary Vanhela Pachuau. Grace, a 2014 batch IAS officer, belongs to the Tamil Nadu cadre and is now posted in that state.

There are only two Mizo IAS officers who are eligible for the chief secretary’s post. One is J.C Ramthanga (Manipur cadre) who was on inter-cadre deputation to Mizoram. And the other is 1988 batch Jharkhand cadre IAS officer Lalbiaktluanga Khiangte.

Ramthanga, incidentally, retired on May 31 and so he is now out of the reckoning. Khiangte was also posted to Mizoram on inter-cadre deputation and held the post of revenue commissioner. But he has returned to his parent (Jharkhand) cadre on completion of the maximum inter-cadre deputation period of five years and all-India service rules don’t allow back-to-back inter-cadre deputation.

There is only one IAS officer in the AGMUT cadre--Dr. Franklin Laltinkhuma. But Laltinkhuma belongs to the 2006 batch and is way too junior for the chief secretary’s post. He is now posted in the Delhi government.

Hence, there is no Mizo IAS officer who can be posted as the chief secretary of the state to replace Renu Sharma.

The opposition to Renu Sharma’s appointment as chief secretary also makes no sense since she had served commendably in Mizoram twice in the past. She was commissioner and secretary in the finance and general administration departments in Mizoram between June 2011 and August 2012.

Sharma was posted to Mizoram again in 2016 and served as principal secretary in the home, personnel and administrative reforms department. Affable and soft-spoken, she earned the reputation of an honest, fair and friendly officer.

What all this reveals about mindset of many Mizos

No other state of the country has ever witnessed an agitation against the appointment of a non-local as the chief secretary of the state.

No chief minister of any other state has ever demanded that the post of chief secretary be reserved for a native of his or her state. And that too on the grounds that people of the state, including ministers, do not know Hindi and cannot comprehend English.

This contention flies in the face of Mizoram being the third most literate state in the country with a literacy rate of 91.3 percent (2021 statistics). English is taught as a compulsory subject in all schools in the state and, hence, it is a given that almost everyone in Mizoram can understand, if not speak fluent, English. English and Mizo are the two official languages of the state.

But Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga is right. It is not that his ministers haven’t gone to school or haven’t learnt English. The bare fact is that Mizo is the exclusive language of communication in Mizoram and, thus, the average resident of the state who has not travelled out cannot read, write, speak or understand any language other than Mizo.

Non-Mizos who have stayed or served in the state say that Mizos are a very unified and cohesive lot. But the flip side of that is that many Mizos also tend to be very inward-looking. This attitude even borders on the parochial at times.

To be fair, a number of prominent Mizos have opposed the NGOCC’s protests against Renu Sharma and the demand to replace her with a Mizo IAS officer. The social media was flooded with condemnations of the NGOCC’s plans and pronouncements.

According to this report in a prominent news portal of the Northeast, well-known columnist and retired pastor Reverend Chuauthuama termed the demand for removal of Sharma “ridiculous”. He said that the NGOs would be well-advised on suggesting ways to improve the quality of education in the state so that more youngsters can join the all-India services.

K Zothanpari, a journalist with a leading media house in Mizoram, was quoted in this report as saying that the incumbent chief secretary has done no wrong and has not acted against the interests of the state or Mizos. “Demonstrating outside her office and preventing her from going to office just because she is a non-Mizo is not right,” he said.

Michael Zosangliana, a netizen, said he believes this initiative by the NGO Coordination Committee is an attempt at patriotism in the wrong direction. “This is a sign of patriotism gone wrong,” he wrote in a post.

But these voices are few and far between. And the state’s political establishment--both the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Congress--have not opposed the NGOCC’s demand. Which means Mizo politicians support the demand. As do, perhaps, a majority of the Mizos.

Which is why many sane voices have warned that raising demands like appointing Mizos only to top posts would show up the community as being parochial and bigoted. But, as of now, few in Mizoram seem to be heeding such warnings.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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