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The Problematique of Statehood

Sumanta Banerji

By Neera Chandhoke
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp.230, Rs. 695.00


The concept of self-determination generally implies that communities—ethnic, linguistic, regional or otherwise—should be left to themselves to choose the form of self-government that suits them best. But the ‘themselves’ are often politically, economically and socially too fragmented to come to a consensus on the best choice. This is not to insinuate that these communities should be denied their legitimate aspiration for a separate political status that would guarantee them their socio-cultural identity (whether in the form of a Nation State, or regional autonomy with enough independent powers within a Nation State). But those supporting self-determination movements—ranging from liberal intellectuals and human rights activists to radical participants in such movements—need to take a hard look at the various sectarian tendencies that fracture them, as well as the political agenda of their leaders. In other words, armed struggles for self-determination, whether aiming at secession from a Nation State, or as pressure tactics to obtain autonomy within that State, should be justified or rejected by the yardstick of certain basic ethical values and normative practices. Do their programmes and actions adhere to the fundamental principles of democratic rights, social justice, economic equity and pluralistic society ? Neera Chandhoke in her book reiterates these core values, on the basis of which she develops a framework of principles that can help observers, as well as participants, in judging secessionist movements. Such a framework assumes importance in the present context, where movements for self-determination in our subcontinent (as well as different parts of the world) have been scarred by excesses of militarism (the worst example being the LTTE’s record in Sri Lanka), hijacked by foreign powers with vested interests (e.g., the usurpation of the movement in Kashmir by Pakistan’s ISI-sponsored terrorists), and fragmented by internal differences (like fratricidal conflicts among the various ethnic groups in North East India, each fighting in the name of self-determination). Within this wider context, Neera Chandhoke focuses on Kashmir which epitomizes all the above trends. She critically examines the movement for self-determination there, the role of the Indian State in using violence to suppress it, and the different segments within the self-determination movement that often fight at cross-purposes. Interestingly enough, Chandhoke’s book comes out at an important juncture, when the report of the government-appointed team of interlocutors on Kashmir has just been released (in May 2012). Although written before its release, she addresses the same ...

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