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Challenges to the Nation-State


Kaustubh Deka


By Udayon Misra
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 366, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 4 April 2015

India’s North East region has offered many paradoxes for observers over the years, thus emerging as a major field of research. Professor Udayon Misra has been one of the early commentators on the region making some of the pioneering interventions on various contentious issues. His recent book India’s North East: Identity Movements, State and Civil Society is a voluminous compilation of some of these works around ‘India’s North-East Experience’, ‘an experience made up of grave challenges to the nation-state and compelling the latter not only to take note of happenings here but also to expand its own parameters of the nation-state and ideas of nationalism’ (p. 349). The book is divided into four thematic parts, each containing a series of articles around the given theme with an introduction that provides some contemporary perspective to the articles within each section. Most of the articles having been published at different points of time over the last three decades benefit from these updated accounts. In ‘Northeast India: Roots of Alienation’ puts the discussion in the context of the fight for ‘the exercise of the Constitutional right of the northeastern indigenous communities to be accepted as Indians on equal grounds, without being “integrated”’ (p. 6) The student protests in recent times by ‘a new generation of tribal youths’ in many Indian metros is cited as resistance to stereotyping as well as demand for a rightful share in the nation-building process as Indian citizens. (pp. 4–5). In ‘Who “Owns” India? The meaning of “My” in “My Country”’, a central question is asked: ‘Why is that many of us living in different parts of our country are not able to acknowledge, in their heart, that India is theirs unlike the rest of us?’ (p. 74). He places this emotional disconnect in the basic inconsistency between the conception of the modern nation-state and the pervasive reality of the polyethnic or multinational character of the country. Attempts at ‘national integration’ have led to an overriding of ethnic diversities and imposition of a homogenous set of values creating enough resentment in the region manifested in militant secessionist movements. ‘…It would be necessary to redefine the preset commonly held concepts of the Indian Nation and enlarge the parameters to include all those who are still on the periphery’. For Misra this ‘redefinition’ has to be forged at the level of grassroots social movements ‘aimed at restoring value based politics’ movements that ...


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