Colonialism by another name: ‘Beyond counter-insurgency’ by Sanjib Baruah

States often use their power of definition as a tool of political control. For the legatees of the British Empire in New Delhi, the territory beyond the Siliguri corridor (or the Chicken's Neck) is an area where a Military Assisted Civic Administration (MACA) is a necessary condition to keep the 'unity and integrity of the union' intact. In the Northeast – an extrusion of the mainland that may fall off if not kept connected with the force of arms – the military component has been an integral part of governance ever since British India and Tibet signed a border agreement on 3 July 1914, without the concurrence of the Chinese government.

The shadow of the northern empire began to appear even more menacing after skirmishes over the McMahon Line in the eastern Himalaya in 1962, resulting in the humiliation of the rulers in New Delhi. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the issue of 'cartographic hostility' from the north was compounded by 'demographic aggression' from territory abutting the Bay of Bengal. Over fifty armed groups in the Northeast may have no agenda other than identity, self-advancement and self-respect. But for the establishment in New Delhi, they are all insurgents who must be either eliminated or kept under tight control. Ironically, such an approach confers legitimacy by default upon groups that seek to establish alternative – 'ours, not theirs' – authority. Insurgents and the establishment thus feed off each other in an area that has remained mired in political violence ever since Independence.

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Himal Southasian