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Debating Sovereignty

Sajal Nag

Edited by Dilip Gogoi
Routledge, New Delhi, 2016, pp. xiii 251, Rs. 895.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 9 September 2016

'The postcolonial North East India represents a land of claimed multiple sovereignties. With fractured histories, multiplicity of ethnicities and peculiar geographical location, the region has been grappling with multiple political crises—from ethno-nationalism to the demand for territorial sovereign homeland.’ The editor’s introduction is an apt description of the contemporary political situation in North East India. With so many sovereignty movements around it is obvious that the region throw up new discourses and debates on the prime concern: sovereignty. Throughout the nineteenth century, Indian political thinkers discussed and debated the form of polity, nature of sovereignty, modes of people’s participation in the polity. On the eve of Indian Independence these debates took a serious turn with multiple sovereignty demands from separatist groups like the Pakistan movements, Azad Punjab movement, Akhand Hindusthan movement, Isolationist Princely States as well as smaller communities who wanted a sovereign existence outside Independent India. These discourses as well as corresponding political movements did not ultimately lead to the balkanization of India, but it did not however end the sovereignty demands. There were groups in Kashmir, Punjab, Tamilnadu and several communities in North East India which continued the debate for quite some time until most of them settled down to the federal, republican and democratic India where nationalist aspirations of these nationalities were satisfactorily met by the nature of the Indian polity. Some of movements however have continued even in contemporary India— most glaring, in some parts of Kashmir and North East India. The present collection of essays discusses and debates some of these extant ideas, some new as well as those which have gone through certain transformation. The volume contains thirteen essays which explore various dimensions of the movement mainly in Assam where issues of sovereignty were raised. ‘Sovereignty at the Frontiers; Contests and Contradictions’ by Ashid Kolas, shows how colonial classification of racial and ethnic groups, drawing of boundaries and intervention in language and literary traditions have prompted groups to challenge the hegemony of the state and its authority to sovereignty. Despite the Indian state’s attempt to accommodate these nationalisms, frontier groups like the Nagas continue to fight for their right to self determination. The author then shifts to the impact of globalization on sovereignty movements first globally and then in North East India. He shows that the contemporary debates in North East India shifted from alternative to secession where even a ...

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