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Refreshing investigation in Assam on national question in India

[TamilNet, Thursday, 9 December 2010 19:36 No Comment]

Recent upsurges in tensions and violence in ongoing conflicts over borders in the Northeast of India, attempts by the Indian state to gain control of territory by settling villages in camps in parts of Chhattisgarh and other states of central India, and the pursuit of autonomy in Telangana and Gorkhaland demonstrate the multiple ways territoriality is politicised in contemporary India, says the concept paper of a seminar on Shared History and Contested Spaces, convened by Dibrugarh University of Assam. The participants to this seminar in Northeast India were refreshingly different from the usual names coming from New Delhi or from certain social groups. The Northeast states of India share many commonalities with the nation of Eezham Tamils in facing unresolved national questions and military oppression of state with a colonial mindset, writes TamilNet political commentator in Colombo.

Further observations of the commentator:

northeastindia_200 “As sub-national territories are shaped and reshaped by nation-states looking to extend power on the one hand, and by different groups within the population desiring more control over specific geographic areas on the other, the foundational relations underpinning conflicts become harder to identify in the constant reconfiguration of who is legitimate and illegitimate in a particular space”, the concept paper further said, in a way highlighting the crisis the Eezham Tamils may also face as a result of the partnership of Indian and Sri Lankan establishments over the Tamil land.

Even though the university seminar had to have the limit of looking at the conflicts within the prism of sub-nationalism, the real issues are more than that.

The northeast states of India and Burma became part of British India after colonial wars in the 19th century. Burma was separated in 1936 and became independent in 1948. During World War II the Japanese occupied some parts of today’s northeast India.

The largely Tibeto-Burmese population of northeast India is linguistically, ethnically and historically different from the rest of India and from the sections of the society that led the independence movement of India and took over the helm of affairs after 1947.

Some of the borders in the northeast were not clearly demarcated even during the British times and the borders were not consistent with demography either. Today’s Arunachal Predesh was only an agency territory called, North East Frontier Agency (NEFA).

Communist China’s military entering into Tibet in 1949, alerted Nehru to structure New Delhi’s administrative machinery and military machinery in NEFA and in other remote parts of the northeast. But Nehru had a difficult time with the Mizo Nagas.

Unfortunately the China factor that provided an excuse for the militarization of the region and New-Delhiization of the administration became an unending legacy of misery to the region.

Quite recently a professor from the south of India appointed as Vice Chancellor to the Central University created in Arunachal Predesh could not able to function from there and he wanted to have his office in New Delhi!

The British colonial legacy that made Bengalis dominating the economy and education in the northeast was long resented in the region.

The constitution of India and the linguistic states, which were primarily designed to suit the needs of the dominant socio-cultural formations of India, were inappropriate for the tribes-dominated region of the northeast.

The Hindi/ Neo-Brahmin formula of national identity was obviously not acceptable to the northeast.

As a strategy of defusing tension during the Assam youth movement of 1970s and 80s, Mrs. Indra Gandhi thought of creating many smaller states in the region. But that could not resolve the issues.

The exploitation of the natural resources of the northeast, especially the oil, by India’s corporates, without due share to the people of the region, real development and recognition of the region, is one of the main factors for dissent in the northeast.

The long-term ambitions of China in the region, political instability of Burma and the way India handles it are not going to be conducive to bring in peace and harmony to the region of northeast.

Very soon China is going to open up Southeast Asia, both mainland and maritime, to have direct communication and economic links with Beijing. Rail links are planned from Beijing to all the capitals of mainland Southeast Asia in near future.

Had India resolved the national and sub-national questions in the northeast in acceptable ways, it could have had the advantage of using the northeast as its entry into Southeast Asia.

The image among the common public in the northeast about India is that they consider it as a foreign country. It is common to hear people travelling from the northeast states to Kolkotta saying that they go to ‘India’.

In fact the resentment for the Hindi domination and for the cultural insinuation of New Delhi through it in the northeast, is many times more deep-rooted and stronger than what Tamil Nadu was able to come out with.

But Tamil Nadu did never show any inclination to ally itself with the northeast states in struggling against the polity of New Delhi. This may be because the corporates of Tamil Nadu are very well linked to the capitalist institutions of New Delhi.

Perhaps the national liberation struggle of Eezham Tamils and the struggles in the notheast India could understand each other better in the unfolding scenario of local politics and geopolitics, in showing solidarity and in working for healthy alternative models in South Asia for the benefit of all concerned.

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