India Against Itself
Assam and the Politics of Nationality
"Descriptive and prescriptive, subjective and objective, India Against Itself will stimulate critical thought at a historical moment when political and economic forces are propelling India toward a looser federalism. And it will provide a base for comparison with ethnic politics in other contexts from Bosnia to Kashmir."—Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and Lloyd I. Rudolph, University of Chicago
"An important contribution to the literature on ethnic conflict."—Choice
"This brilliant book, meticulously researched in the history of subnationalism and cultural politics in northeast India, is the best critique of general theories of agonistic democracy that I have encountered."—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
In an era of failing states and ethnic conflict, violent challenges from dissenting groups in the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, several African countries, and India give cause for grave concern in much of the world. And it is in India where some of the most turbulent of these clashes have been taking place. One resulted in the creation of Pakistan, and militant separatist movements flourish in Kashmir, Punjab, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Assam. In India Against Itself, Sanjib Baruah focuses on the insurgency in Assam in order to explore the politics of subnationalism.
Baruah offers a bold and lucid interpretation of the political and economic history of Assam from the time it became a part of British India and a leading tea-producing region in the nineteenth century. He traces the history of tensions between pan-Indianism and Assamese subnationalism since the early days of Indian nationalism. The region's insurgencies, human rights abuses by government security forces and insurgents, ethnic violence, and a steady slide toward illiberal democracy, he argues, are largely due to India's formally federal, but actually centralized governmental structure. Baruah argues that in multiethnic polities, loose federations not only make better democracies, in the era of globalization they make more economic sense as well.
This challenging and accessible work addresses a pressing contemporary problem with broad relevance for the history of nationality while offering an important contribution to the study of ethnic conflict. A native of northeast India, Baruah draws on a combination of scholarly research, political engagement, and an insider's knowledge of Assamese culture and society.
Sanjib Baruah is Professor and Chair of Political Studies at Bard College.