The end of the blockade in Manipur has succeeded only in increasing longstanding polarisation – political, ethnic, territorial and otherwise. But such dynamics have been on display throughout much of the states and communities of the Indian Northeast, in recent months as in recent decades. Indeed, ethnonationalism is again proving to be an extremely potent force: helping to bind a community to work towards common aspirations, while simultaneously setting the ground for identity politics of the most dangerous kind. Few areas in Southasia encapsulate this Janus-faced nature of ethnonationalism better than the Northeast, as seen in the fresh eruption of tension between communities in Manipur, as well as friction between Assam and Meghalaya.
The Northeast has had a troubled history since Independence, absorbed into the Indian Union without proper consultations with local communities – even disregarding expressly stated objections, as with the Naga. Since then, the region has failed to fully overcome its sense of alienation from the ‘mainland’, while the New Delhi government’s continued divide-and-rule policies have not improved matters. A sense of injustice can manifest itself in myriad ways, including ethnic strife. But how do we go beyond ethnic and territorial questions, even while respecting the very real sentiments behind them? How do we address the other, very real problems that often get lost in discourses on ethnic strife? That is the challenge for Southasian communities and its intelligentsia if we are to evolve models where our region’s pluralism can become a strength, rather than a source of conflict. In this regard, the Northeast has important lessons for us all.
Though already regarded as a region in conflict, the Northeast could now be in for an era of increased internal strife on issues of ethnicity, territoriality and, that constant bugbear, inequitable development. Today, the area’s states and communities in their ethnic cocoons seem more vulnerable to this than ever before – a fragility that is being sharply bombarded in our cover image, by Manipur artist and activist Korou Khundrakpam.
Our cover stories
by Sanjib Baruah
The need for the Northeast to move toward a regime recognising the rights and humanity of all, be they natives or settlers, as equal.
by Kishalay Bhattacharjee
Into the Manipur tangle, where a record-long economic blockade has only sharpened the polarisation.
by Yengkhom Jilangamba
The standoff in Manipur demonstrates the politics of ethnic exclusionism in the Northeast, and New Delhi’s collusion in the process.
by Dolly Kikon
The Imphal government’s inability to regard all the state’s population as its own, and its indifference towards Naga concerns.
by Dinesh Wagle
The Gorkha-Khasi conflict indicates not only the level of inter-community distance, but a border conflict between two states of the Indian Northeast.
Other Northeast-related stories in this edition