Framing the North-East in Indian Politics: Beyond the Integration Framework

Published date01 December 2015
Date01 December 2015
Subject MatterTeaching-Learning Politics in India
/tmp/tmp-17L5Rs8VQz5v0l/input Teaching–Learning Politics in India
Framing the North-East in Indian
Studies in Indian Politics
3(2) 277–283
Politics: Beyond the Integration
© 2015 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023015601747
Kham Khan Suan Hausing1
In this note, I make an inventory of how political realities in India’s north-east are studied to understand
how and why it continues to be marginal to national imaginary and to mainstream political science
debates in India. A quick overview of extant literature on north-east India shows that the academic
canvass of study broadly encompasses nation building, ethnicity, development, conflict and insurgency.
To this author’s notice, no major Indian political scientist has drawn his/her major insights from
north-east India’s experience2 or vice versa. Notably also, there is a very negligible number of political
scientists who have done comparative study of state politics in the region.3 This is surprising given
the increasing importance that states have received since 1989 in light of the liberalization of Indian
economy and emergence of coalition governments. Even as varieties of comparative state politics
emerge, among others, on: (a) how state-level politics either continue to influence electoral calculations
at the national level or remain autonomous from the national politics; and (b) how states outside
the North-East compete with each other for investment and development, north-eastern states remain
laggards and they do not figure in any major study of India’s changing political economy (Jenkins, 1999;
Kailash, 2011; Sinha, 2005; Yadav & Palshikar 2008). No wonder, for most Indians, the North-East is
‘on the map’ but ‘off the mind’, as the evocative title of Tehelka’s ‘Summit of the Powerless’ in 2006
aptly put it (Rehman, 2006).
1 Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad.
2 An exception to this could be Bhargava’s (2010) recent illuminating piece on the Nagas, yet it must be qualified that Bhargava’s
major contribution is on secularism in India. In this list, we may include Weiner’s (1978) work on migration and the politics
of nativism; Kohli’s (1997) work on self-determination; Chandhoke’s (2006) work on state creation and federalism; Stepan,
Linz and Yadav’s (2011) work on crafting state-nations; Menon and Nigam’s (2013) work on power and contestations; Chenoy
and Chenoy’s (2010) work on armed conflicts; and Bhattacharya’s (2014) work on linking security and development in
North-East’s neighbourhood, among others, which produced an article/chapter on state(s) in north-east India in a comparative
3 Apart from Hassan’s (2008) comparative study of state–society relations in Manipur and Mizoram and Sanjib Baruah’s (2005)
stellar work on ‘durable disorder’ in north-east India, no political scientist in the North-East has done a comparative study of
state politics in the region.
Corresponding author:
Kham Khan Suan Hausing, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, PO Central University,
Gachibowli, Hyderabad 500046, India.


Studies in Indian Politics 3(2)
Question of Framing: Integration Framework and Marginalization
of North-east India
To understand marginalization of the North-East in national imaginary and mainstream political science
debates in India, it is imperative to outline how the term ‘North-East’ has been descriptively and analyti-
cally used and framed over time to suit the integration framework. As a descriptive term, the North-East
is used as an administrative category intended to bring about inter-state development and security coor-
dination in the seven (now eight) states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram,
Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. The creation of North Eastern Council in 1971 and a separate department
in 2001, which has been upgraded to a full-fledged Union Ministry of Development of North Eastern
Region in 2004, consolidates the distinctive character of this category. ‘North-East’ is also descriptively
used in the sense of a ‘frontier’. Alexander Mackenzie (2001) is perhaps the first to use ‘North-East
Frontier’ as a descriptive term in two senses, to imply: (a) a boundary line; and (b) ‘a tract that lies
between Bengal and independent Burma, with its outlying spurs and ridges’ (p. 1) occupied by the hill
tribes and with whom the British had established relations.
Since Mackenzie, the ‘North-East’ as a ‘frontier’ is conveniently used to refer to a physically bounded
non-state space inhabited by savage, wild and backward hill tribes. These tribes were also culturally
marked out as ‘others’ from the valley people in Bengal and within north-east India (Brahmaputra Valley
in Assam and Barrak Valley in Manipur) (Suan, 2009). Interestingly, when the Raj enacted a series of
protective legislations, like the Inner Line Regulation (1873), the Backward Tract under Government of
India Act, 1919 and Partially Excluded and Excluded Areas under the Government of India Act, 1935,
their overriding consideration was to control and manage tribal affairs, although cultural...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT