ISBN: 978-1-5036-1128-3

Åshild Kolås

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

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The ‘North Eastern Region’ of India, colloquially known as the ‘Northeast’, is an assemblage of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim – each uniquely diverse in their multiple fault lines of otherness. In this book, Sanjib Baruah, a prominent scholar of and from the region, revisits the paradoxes and puzzles of Northeastern politics, offering insights into the region’s protracted conflicts over nationhood and sovereignty. Starting with the ‘invention’ of Northeast India as a region, Baruah delves into the protracted independence struggles of Nagaland and Manipur, and the violent legacy of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Common to the region’s nationalist movements is the demand for homelands based on unique cultural heritage and ethnic, national or tribal identity. The idea that nationhood warrants recognition and rights is rooted in the democratic space provided by the Indian nation state itself. The creation of the state of Nagaland is among several examples where such a demand has been accommodated by the Union Government. On the other hand, India’s armed forces continue to enjoy ‘special powers’ to operate without checks and balances in Northeastern areas designated as ‘disturbed’, with tragic consequences. Baruah unpacks the modern history of the Northeast with keen attention to nuance, describing violent encounters with the Indian state and its institutions of extraction, creative strategies of resistance, and surprisingly ingenious democratic projects. As the author succinctly explains, ‘democratic ideas and practices can be vernacularized in all manner of ways’. Carefully composed in a highly readable style, this book is an important contribution to the study of democracy, nationalism and vernacular politics on the Indian subcontinent and beyond.