Monday, October 3, 2011

The nation state and its territory are symbiotically bound together, inseparable and inviolable. The diminishment of one leads inescapably to the diminishment of the other. This, the classic (and idealised) view of what constitutes the nation state, has remained more or less unchanged since the middle of the 17th century, despite the constant internal and external challenges to the supposedly inviolable territoriality of many sovereign nations, the changes that have come about in ‘unalterable borders,' and the emergence of new nation states.

The series of treaties known as the Westphalia treaties, which ended the Thirty Years War (1618-48), are the basis of the modern nation states in Europe. This concept has, over the years, acquired universal applicability and is now the foundational basis for modern nation states everywhere, including India. Over and above this is the Indian nationalist view that from times immemorial, India has been a civilisational state, Bharat Mata, mystically transcending the narrow legal definitions of European theorists of what constitutes the modern nation state.

This is not unique to India. Every nation state, whether it formally came into being within living memory or has been a stable polity for centuries, views itself as a unique and inviolable territorial entity. Many also evoke the image of the nation state as the Eternal Mother, especially in periods of national crisis.

The struggles for sovereignty going on in Assam and its neighborhood in northeast India are a case in point. In popular perception, the whole region comprising seven States (with the artificial addition of Sikkim to the Northeastern Council, eight States) is aflame with violent separatist insurgencies. In reality, serious separatist or sovereignty struggles with some political and organisational substance to them, and a cadre trained in the use of arms to take forward such sovereignty aspirations, are a reality in only three States of the region — Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.

While the leaders of the dominant separatist outfits in Assam and Nagaland are engaged in discussions with the Government of India — for over a decade in Nagaland — the situation in Manipur is rather more complicated. The prospect of such outfits in Manipur coming on board and talking to the government is now linked, in the view of the insurgent leaders — not all of whom are clear about their objectives or even their readiness to talk — to the Government of India accepting some preconditions. The most important of these is that the government must agree to hold “a plebiscite under international supervision” to ascertain the will of the people of Manipur on sovereignty and independence.

On the face of it, such a demand is unrealistic. It is also deeply flawed in its apparent perception that the “people of Manipur,” even those who have sovereignty aspirations, have a common perspective on sovereignty and independence. The fact is, the “people of Manipur” comprising three distinct communities do not share a common vision of their past or their future aspirations. The point hardly needs to be laboured.

However, this is not the place to discuss the nuances of sovereignty narratives of the region, every one of whose seven States, while unique, also shares a commonality of history and memories, and a measure of resentment against ‘India.' Rather, in all States, the insurgencies have serious issues with others of their own kind, outfits that too are fighting the Indian state, on what constitutes the existing territory, and the territory of the putative sovereign and independent state that they aim to attain. In other words, while their principal contradiction is with the Indian state, there are serious problems over the territorial imagination of the mutually contending outfits.

The most striking of such contradictions prevails in Nagaland and Manipur. Nagaland is now one of the States of the Indian Union under the Constitution. It has all the formal appurtenances of a constituent State — executive, legislature, and judiciary, with Kohima having a Bench of the Guwahati high Court. However, the territorial imagination of the Nagaland government — its vision of what its territory should be — or of the political parties of Nagaland, including the Congress and the BJP (which had two Ministers in the previous National Democratic Alliance government), is no different from that of the three outfits fighting for or committed to Naga sovereignty. Each one of these claims nearly two-thirds of the territory of Manipur, to whose inviolability the government of Manipur is as fervently committed as the most uncompromising of separatist outfits fighting to secure Manipur's sovereignty and independence.

In other words, territoriality is as central to established nation states that define themselves in terms of their territory, traced to the history and memories of the people, as to the organised or disorganized groups within the territories of a nation state seeking to challenge the territoriality of the larger structure, and carve out a separate territory for themselves. In turn, those who challenge the territoriality and lay claims on the territory of ‘existing nation states' themselves have serious contradictions with others mounting similar challenges and, when these are weak, press hard on them.

Source : The Hindu


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