For a number of years, the specter of Maoism has been haunting India's political establishment. In recent months Maoist activities are said to have spread to the Northeast Indian state of Assam. There is a 'Red Terror Corridor' along the Assam-Arunachal border, says the Ministry of Home Affairs. Such statements are attempts to "securitize" protests against hydropower dams that are coming up in the eastern Himalayas.
Unlike the "multipurpose" river valley projects of an earlier period of state-led development, the water projects in the works are mostly single purpose hydropower dams with private companies as significant players. In the conditions that prevail in Northeast India, hydropower dams entail the enclosure of the hydro-commons resulting in the degradation of the resources of the river commons that provide livelihood to millions of people living in the floodplains. Furthermore, Northeast India's hydropower is meant almost entirely for use elsewhere. Hydropower development will probably be the single most decisive factor in shaping the region's politics in coming years, and that future is likely to be conflictual.
Sanjib Baruah is Professor of Political Studies at Bard College, New York and Visiting Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. His publications include India against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality (University of Pennsylvania Press and Oxford University Press 1999), Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India (Oxford University Press, 2005) and the edited volumes Beyond Counterinsurgency: Breaking the Impasse in Northeast India (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Ethnonationalism in India: A Reader (Oxford University Press, 2010).