In the Name of the Nation. India and Its Northeast

Baruah, Sanjib
Anzahl Seiten
296 S.
€ 76,63
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Lydia Walker, Institute for History, Leiden University

Sanjib Baruah’s, In the Name of the Nation, drills down into the details of political, economic, and ecological unrest in the Indian Northeast, and then contextualizes these predicaments within broader global transformations of the 20th and 21st centuries. The Northeast is the region of India that arcs over Bangladesh and borders Myanmar. After independence and partition, it remained connected to ‘mainland’ India only by the Siliguri corridor in North Bengal. During the 20th century, the Northeast was made into a geopolitical periphery by three partitions: of India and Burma, of India and Pakistan, and of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Until recent times, most mainstream scholarship of South Asia, of international relations, and of global history has virtually ignored the Northeast. Baruah’s In the Name of the Nation works to change that.

The aims of the book are twofold. First, it is a thematic study of the burning issues of citizenship, development, and violent conflict within some of the eight Northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. Second, it is an act of periphery breaking: Baruah centers the Northeast, not because it is a fascinating, understudied place on which he is a well published authority, though it is and he is.[1] Rather, Baruah shows how the region is central for understanding the relationship between citizenship, its lack or limits; development, resource extraction, land ownership and migration; as well as violence by and against the state.

Is a reader interested in the 2019 amendments to the criteria of Indian citizenship and the surrounding protests and popular mobilization? The protests began in Assam and Baruah has an excellent chapter detailing the history and ongoing issues of immigration, land ownership, and ethnic/religious categorization created and exacerbated by the region’s multiple partitions. Is a reader interested in indigenous rights and resource extraction? Is a reader interested in the cyclical and cynical feedback loop between insurgency, counterinsurgency, and ‘peace’ processes? Is a reader interested in the legal practice of the political theory of ‘the exception?’[2] These big questions cross multiple fields, disciplines, and regions of scholarship. In the Name of the Nation addresses their roots in the Northeast with specificity and verve.

The book is divided into six chapters with an introduction and a conclusion. Chapter 1 provides the British colonial context for the formulation of ‘the Northeast’ as a frontier zone with ‘excluded’ areas as well as the postcolonial ramifications for this practice as of the region came to be governed as Indian external rather than domestic affairs. Chapter 2 lays out the legacies of the Eastern partitions—the violent creation of East Pakistan (1947) and Bangladesh (1971)—which nationalized borders where population mobility had previously been fluid, producing contested definitions of citizenship in Assam. Chapter 3 connects land ownership, resource extraction, and ‘immigrant’ labor in frontier zones with tribal constitutional definitions in the Sixth Schedule, expanding upon work such as that of Dolly Kikon that links the hazy legality of land use in borderlands regions with issues of development or extraction (depending upon one’s perspective of these projects), and their long-term environmental consequences.[3] These three chapters show how the Northeast became a frontier zone through empire and partition, and how those processes crafted hierarchies between who owns land, who works the land, and who is a citizen.

Chapter 4 explores the conflict between Naga nationalist claimants and the Indian government with a focus on the cold peace of ceasefires, which are extended indefinitely without addressing the central issues of independence or the political incorporation of Naga territories, but grant de facto sovereignty to areas controlled by particular insurgent groups. Baruah demonstrates that the Naga conflict is not marginal to global politics, but has become a template for such ongoing struggles in India and elsewhere. Chapter 5 analyzes the conflict between the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) and the Indian military and its relationship with the state of Assam, illuminating how Ulfa’s extreme violence effected how legitimately the movement could represent Assamese demands for autonomy. At issue throughout is how India has governed the region through its military-security forces, a process that has incentivized insurgency as a mode of negotiating with New Delhi. Chapter 6 examines the main instrument of that governance, the use of The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a form of martial law that came into being in 1958 to address insurgency in Nagaland, and has been extended to several other Northeastern States as well as elsewhere in India, including Kashmir. Through AFSPA, ‘special’ or emergency legal exceptions have become the law, excluding many in the Northeast from full rights and legal protections in India. These three chapters link together insurgency, counter-insurgency, and ceasefire politics into a not-so-exceptional ‘special’ legal regime that institutionalizes a hierarchy of national belonging.

This book should be read by anyone interested in global issues of citizenship, migration, and statehood; of ethnicity and its construction; of violence that is both sanctioned by, and undermining of, the state. It should be read by those who are interested in the history and politics of South Asia and South Asians within and beyond their boarders, as it problematizes definitions of external and domestic, citizen and non-citizen. In the Name of the Nation is also published by Stanford University Press’ wonderful South Asia in Motion series. Their other publications include Arkotong Longkumer’s fascinating study on Hindutva in the Northeast and Kate Imy’s excellent work on race and religion within the Indian colonial army.[4] The series is a home for scholarship that pushes intellectual boundaries in South Asian studies and whose current and future publication list should be of significant interest to scholars of the region and beyond.

[1] Sanjib Baruah, Durable Disorder. Understanding the Politics of Northeast India, Oxford 2005 and Postfrontier Blues. Toward a New Policy Framework for Northeast India, Honolulu 2007.
[2] As theorized in Georgio Agamben, Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford 1998, among others.
[3] Dolly Kikon, Living with Oil and Coal. Resource Politics and Militarization in Northeast India, Seattle 2019.
[4] Arkotong Longkumer, The Greater India Experiment. Hindutva and the Northeast, Stanford 2020; Kate Imy, Faithful Fighters. Identity and Power in the British Indian Army, Stanford 2019.