In the Name of the Nation
India and Its Northeast
Sanjib Baruah



It was time for me to try and discover what on earth this strange country to which I had been sent was. . . . I had come from an environment . . . where the unit of account was the nation state and the problems, if they could possibly have been given a monetary value, were worth trillions of dollars. What I was faced with here was incredibly tiny groups of separate identities with problems so small that I could not grasp why they should be bothered about.

—B. K. Nehru, Nice Guys Finish Second

WHEN USING A DIRECTIONAL NAME, it is perhaps always a good idea to ask, “Where is it we really start from, where is the place that enunciates this itinerary”?1 In Northeast India, or just “the Northeast”2—a common way for Indians to refer to the region today—the point of reference is clear: it is the Indian heartland. It is not a long vernacularized directional name like the Maghreb (the place where the sun sets, or the West in Arabic, since the area was once the western-most area conquered by the Arabs), Norway (north way), or Austria (eastern realm). Northeast India is a postcolonial coinage that took root in the 1970s. Unlike informal or vernacular names like North India or South India—or the Midwest in the United States, most of which is located in the country’s eastern half—Northeast India is an officially organized and named region—an artifact of deliberate policy. But if this name was expected to stick in vernacular practice—as a form of self-identification—it has not.3 One rarely hears anyone saying: “As a Northeasterner, I . . . ,” though people would say “as a Manipuri,” “a Naga,” “a Khasi,” or “a businesswoman,” “a journalist,” or “an engineer.”4 There is, however, some evidence of an incipient Northeastern identity coming into existence in recent years.

There has been some effort to give the directional name a Hindu-accented cultural makeover. Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to talk about the auspiciousness of the northeastern direction in the Vastu Shastra—the traditional Indian system of architecture and design. The “ishan kon of a house should be taken care of,” he says—using the Vastu Shastra’s word for the northeastern direction: the direction of Gods that Vastu practitioners recommend as an ideal location for a pujaghar (household shrine)—so the Northeast should be developed to ensure the country’s well-being.5 The directional place-name highlights the peculiar relation that has developed between this region and the nation over the seven decades since decolonization.6 The commonly used derivative term Northeasterner functions not only to describe a person’s geographical provenance; it expresses a certain hierarchy and relation of power. The term, as I will explain below, has a racial inflection as well.

This official region was once a part of British Imperial India’s “frontier system.”7 The political-legal structure of the colonial province of Assam paralleled that of another frontier province of British Imperial India: the North West Frontier Province [NWFP]. Located in present-day Pakistan, it was renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2010. The Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) was located between the “settled districts” of the NWFP and the international border with Afghanistan. This is similar to the North East Frontier Tracts, which is most of the contemporary state of Arunachal Pradesh and a part of the state of Nagaland—located between the settled districts of Assam and the international border with Tibet and Burma. Northeast India, as an official place-name, carries with it the weight of a number of haphazard and poorly thought-out decisions made by managers of the postcolonial Indian state as they were trying to turn an imperial frontier space into the national space of a “normal sovereign state.”8 National security was uppermost in the minds of the officials making those decisions. The area borders China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. That 98 percent of the region’s borders are international is a cliché one hears endlessly in India. National security-minded writers never tire of using the metaphor of a “chicken-neck” when referring to the fourteen-miles-wide land corridor in Siliguri in northern Bengal. It supposedly underscores the region’s extreme security vulnerability. An obsessive use of the language of national geopolitics naturalizes the subcontinent’s post-1947 political map. The imagined borders between the “inside” and the “outside” fix the region in terms of official India’s national security anxieties. A fact of political geography—a product of the Partition of 1947—has been naturalized.

I begin by interrogating this regional identifier because the region itself—its dominant representations and discordant political history—renders inadequate so much accepted knowledge about India as a successful postcolonial democracy on an upward and inclusive economic trajectory. The collection of paradoxes that is the Northeast stands as an exceptional example of the shortcomings and failures of the territorially circumscribed postcolonial nation-state as an institutional complex, and understanding how this region came to be what it is today is crucial to understanding that larger story.


Northeast India has had a long history of armed conflicts,9 though in international forums Indian officials avoid using this locution to reference this fact. They prefer to use the word insurgency. That the language of insurgency and counterinsurgency has become commonplace in Indian official discourse is remarkable. This contrasts with the practice of at least one major democracy: the United Kingdom, where insurgency and counterinsurgency were taboo words carefully avoided in reference to the conflict in Northern Ireland. It was feared that the use of this language could be taken to mean that it is “an expeditionary or colonial mission” or a case of “overseas military deployment, a war.”10 The situation in Northern Ireland was therefore commonly referred to as “the Troubles.” Despite the liberal use of the term insurgency, the idea of an armed rebellion with mass support—the focus of conventional counterinsurgency theory—bears almost no relation to Northeast India’s armed conflicts.11 It would be hard to argue that the vast majority of armed political groups pose any kind of a strategic threat to the Indian state.12 As a former officer of the Indian Army once said mockingly, “The moment they fired a few shots and were organized into a violent movement . . . powerful government functionaries came running from the Centre. The funds increased, the allocations increased.”13 Most groups using the language of armed resistance as a form of claims-making do not draw their strength from the advantages traditionally associated with guerilla groups; they take advantage of gaps in the rule of law, and they all maintain ties with mainstream actors in politics, administration, and business.14 Even when a group proclaims independent and sovereign statehood as its goal, the challenges it presents have little in common with guerilla groups that were the focus of the canonical works on counterinsurgency warfare. Laldenga, for example, led the powerful Mizo rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s. But he “had always held the avenue of negotiations open even at the time of declaring independence.”15

This history of armed conflicts and the discourse of insurgency surrounding it have had a formative role in shaping the way Northeast India is governed.16 The armed conflicts provide both the backdrop and the rationale for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)—a law that has been in effect in the region for nearly six decades. The Indian Parliament first adopted this law as far back as 1958, during the early days of the Naga rebellion. It has since been amended a number of times to accommodate the names of the new northeastern states created since then.17 It allows civilian authorities to call on the armed forces to come to the assistance of civil powers. Once a state—or a part of a state—is declared “disturbed” under AFSPA, the armed forces are empowered to make preventive arrests, search premises without warrants, and even shoot and kill civilians. Legal action against an officer for abusing those powers requires the prior approval of the central government—a rule that has effectively meant de facto immunity from prosecution.18 A disturbed area proclamation under AFSPA has uncanny similarities with emergencies or states of exception—including martial law and a state of siege. Critics of AFSPA charge that it effectively suspends fundamental freedoms and creates a de facto emergency regime. The powers granted under AFSPA, says a 2013 report of the UN Human Rights Council, “are in reality broader than that allowable under a state of emergency as the right to life may effectively be suspended under the Act and the safeguards applicable in a state of emergency are absent.”19

The persistence of such an exceptionally harsh security regime cannot be explained by the putative challenge of powerful and unending “insurgencies.” Decisions to proclaim an area disturbed under AFSPA are made with remarkable casualness. Officials rarely offer much by way of justification.20 In recent years the familiar flow of news about armed conflicts in Northeast India have been punctuated by reports of ceasefires, ceremonial arms surrenders, peace talks and signing of Suspension of Operations agreements, and peace accords. It has become routine for senior government functionaries to announce that the door is open for militants to forsake violence and join the “national mainstream.” Yet in these efforts to end armed conflict, one hears little about getting rid of AFSPA. Evidently few believe that an outbreak of peace is on the horizon. A writer on Indian security affairs describes the state of affairs: “Northeast continues to remain a tinderbox, but insurgent capacity to challenge the might of the state has continuously declined.”21 Most security experts typically talk of the situation having improved selectively, and they attribute it mostly to the elimination of sanctuaries for rebel groups in Bangladesh and Bhutan. “The multiple insurgencies of India’s Northeast,” says the head of India’s major security research and monitoring organization, “have seen dramatic deceleration and disintegration.” The incidents of violence have declined “to some of the lowest levels in the past two and a half decades.” But “cyclic surges and recessions in insurgent activities,” he warns, have occurred in the past as well.22 Significantly, the lists of “Terrorist, Insurgent and Extremist Groups” regularly updated by this organization make a distinction between “active” and “inactive” armed groups. There are, in addition, “proscribed” armed groups and armed groups in “peace talks/ceasefire.” Assam, for instance, is listed as having seven active and thirty-six inactive armed groups, as well as three proscribed armed groups. Thirteen armed groups are described as being either in “peace talks” or under “ceasefire agreements.” Even peaceful Mizoram has one active and one inactive group.23 In the eyes of India’s national security bureaucrats and security experts, the situation in the region remains in a permanent state of flux. They can never be sure when an inactive armed group crosses over to the active category, or the other way around, or when a “proscribed” armed organization becomes “un-proscribed,” enters into a ceasefire, and becomes a partner in peace with state actors. Thus, in February of 2018, as authoritative an official as the chief minister of Manipur provided a curious explanation for the extortions and kidnappings taking place in his state. He said they were occurring because negotiations with organizations under Suspension of Operations agreements had been slow to start.24 The democratically elected chief minister of Nagaland once explained to a reporter that since Naga armed groups do not receive government subsidies—unlike other armed groups in the region—they are “bound to collect tax from the people for their survival.”25 During their fieldwork in the Naga-dominated Ukhrul District of Manipur in 2016, Shalaka Thakur and Rajesh Venugopal found that “when talking of the government . . . there is often confusion about who is being referred to.” The district’s main urban center hosts the institutions of both the Indian state and those of the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland/Nagalim (GPRN), run by the NSCN-IM, currently engaged in peace negotiations with the Indian government. An official of the GPRN told them that they collect “taxes to feed armed cadres and run the administration. We run the people’s government.”26 In July of 2018 a report of a committee of the Indian Parliament noted that Assam today tops the country in certain categories of violent crime. The parliamentary standing committee on home affairs, headed by former home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, said in its report that it “is perplexed that despite a waning trend in insurgency, violent crimes and kidnappings have been on a rise.” Among possible reasons, says the report, is the “poor rehabilitation and settlement of former insurgents who may be indulging in such crimes for ransom.”27 This pattern—a prolongation of durable disorder28—may not be an intended effect of Indian policy, but that the ceasefire and negotiations policy in place since the 1990s would produce such an outcome should not be surprising.29

After six decades, it is hard for anyone to claim that AFSPA is designed as an “exception” to serve a restorative function for India’s democratic order.30 In fact, Northeast India today suffers from serious democracy deficits because of this law and the culture of impunity it fosters. Indeed, the culture of impunity has become so entrenched that many in the region now believe that even repealing AFSPA “will be no panacea.”31 AFSPA may be at the center of this special security order, but it is by no means reducible to it. I will use the phrase “the AFSPA regime” to emphasize this reality. In the history of security legislations in India, there are examples of a controversial security law being repealed but another law being soon adopted giving state institutions similar powers.32 An attempt at such a cosmetic quick fix of the AFSPA regime is unlikely in the immediate future, but it cannot be ruled out indefinitely. Moreover, it is important to recognize that even when an armed conflict has ended in the region, it has had no visible effect on the trend of a continually expanding footprint of the Indian Army and of other centrally controlled security forces. This is partly because their deployment in Northeast India serves both internal and external security ends, and, increasingly, the two have become indistinguishable. The increase of large military and security facilities built in the region points to the long-term nature of their deployment. Monirul Hussain, the author of a book on involuntary removal and resettlement of displaced people in the region, points out the irony of some of these military and police installations developed by land acquisition through eminent domain laws having luxury golf courses inside them.33 The Indian military establishment, though, is careful not to formally call them golf courses. Thus, the Rangapahar golf course (Spear Golf Club) in Dimapur, Nagaland, is called the Army Spear Environmental Park and Training Area. The Narengi golf course in Guwahati is called the Rhino Environmental Park and Training Area (REPTA).34

There are many unintended effects of the AFSPA regime. The resultant decision-making environment, says a former head of the police of the state of Karnataka—observing conditions in the state of Manipur—is like that of a man with a hammer as his only tool: every problem looks like a nail to be hit on the head.35 Arguably, all across Northeast India the AFSPA regime has become a major obstacle to innovative problem solving. Significant numbers of armed conflicts in the world—as becomes apparent from large data sets—do not end in victory or defeat or peace but in a draw.36 In the actually existing world of postcolonial sovereignty—with a large number of nominally sovereign “quasi-states”37—armed conflicts are not always about a clash of wills over the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence between armed groups and states.38 It is rare in Northeast India for a peace deal between the government and an armed group to be followed by comprehensive and transparent demobilization of ex-combatants. These peace settlements—flawed at the point of conception—are examples of such ambiguous political outcomes. To a careful observer, signs of future trouble would be apparent from the start. When flawed peace accords turn “former insurgents” into partners in the exercise of state power, their demonstrated military prowess becomes a part of local political equations. These arrangements have the making of hybrid political regimes where state and nonstate armed entities are in de facto informal partnership. The authority of such hybrid regimes does not depend on the actual use of violence: an armed group’s reputed capacity for violence can do the job, and there may be vigilante groups engaging in violence from time to time with the acquiescence of state actors. The fear of physical harm in the hands of former militants—with the complicity of state actors—props up these hybrid regimes.39

Indian security experts talk of a “politician-insurgent nexus.” Corruption scandals arise from time to time that implicate government officials, mainstream politicians, and leaders of armed groups. They point to the prevalence of such hybrid regimes. As recently as August of 2018, in a case involving the theft of guns from Manipur Police armory, India’s National Investigation Agency arrested a number of people, including elected members of the Manipur state legislature, police officials, and leaders of an armed group that had signed a Suspension of Operations Agreement with the government. “Despite the decrease in insurgent violence,” observed a security analyst following those arrests, “the nexus of militants with Government officials and politicians feeds an underground economy of violence and prevents any final resolution of the multiple conflicts in India’s Northeast.”40 There are elements of a hybrid political regime in these so-called “nexuses.” They have affinity with the phenomena of “shadow states” or “war-lord rule.” It is hardly surprising that the perceived need for the continuation of AFSPA never really goes away.

Equally predictably, the use of AFSPA in this political climate extends beyond the actual conduct of counterinsurgency operations. Multiple state and nonstate armed actors operate under its shadow. For instance, in Assam in the 1990s, death squads—or “secret killers” as they were called—carried out a wave of extrajudicial killings. They could not have occurred without the cover of AFSPA. Anthropologist Dolly Kikon narrates an episode involving the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)—a force designed to protect the country’s economic infrastructure, including airports. It is unlikely that anyone ever intended to include the CISF within the meaning of “armed forces” in AFSPA. Yet this law was in the background when CISF personnel in 2007 shot and killed a person in an area where it was responsible for guarding oil installations. The incident did not take place at an installation guarded by the CISF. The victim was a local activist, Nilikesh Gogoi, known for his opposition to the government’s appropriation of private lands “to expand plantations and oil exploration sites.” While AFSPA was not explicitly invoked, CISF officials said in defense of their action that it was a case of “mistaken identity” and blamed the incident on the extra vigilance that it has to maintain in the region because of the poor security conditions that supposedly prevail. Local citizens initially protested the killing, but soon family members accepted monetary compensation, and the public mood changed in favor of moving on. The AFSPA regime, Kikon observes, creates “different expectations and concepts of justice.”41 This security culture probably explains why Assam’s Kaziranga National Park has acquired a reputation as “the park that shoots people to protect rhinos.” A reporter of the British Broadcasting Corporation found that the park’s rangers have “the kind of powers to shoot and kill normally only conferred on armed forces policing civil unrest.”42

Official squeamishness about the use of the term armed conflict—and preference for the term insurgency—is largely explained by India’s well-known defense in international forums of the sanctity of the principle of state sovereignty and the complementary principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of states. Official India appears to associate the term armed conflict with regimes of external intervention: the meddling in the internal affairs of states by foreign governments and nongovernmental humanitarian and human rights organizations. The prospect apparently provokes the deepest of anxiety among Indian officials. Thus the Indian government once declared: “There are no situations of ‘armed conflict’ within the territory of India.” The context was a discussion of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which recommends the participation of women in institutions and processes of conflict resolution and “post-conflict reconstruction.” The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women had queried governments about the implementation of the resolution in their countries. Indian officials were concerned that acknowledging the incidence of armed conflicts in the country might pave the way for international meddling. The protestation that “India has no armed conflicts” was therefore followed by the statement: “hence the Security Council Resolution 1325 relating to Women in Armed Conflict is not applicable to India.”43 The assertion that there is no internal armed conflict in India is not empirically tenable. But one can hardly begrudge Indian officials their cleverness and inventiveness. For, to paraphrase the novelist Amitav Ghosh, it could well be said that sovereignty in our time resides precisely where UN peacekeepers and humanitarian and international human rights actors do not: “the reason why the UN is probably never going to intervene in Ulster or Tibet is because it will be excluded by actual, as opposed to nominal, sovereignty.”44 Of course, India has not been able to convince UN bodies of its official position based on factual evidence, nor has it tried to. Thus, following a visit to India in 2012, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, South African jurist Christof Heyns, said that it was hard to reconcile what he observed in the country “with India’s insistence that it is not engaged in an internal armed conflict.”45 Privately, Indian officials would probably agree with UN officials. They take a radically different position on the subject when speaking in domestic forums, including legal arenas. For example, in December of 2015 India’s attorney general described the situation in Manipur as “warlike.” He told a Supreme Court bench while defending the Indian Army against charges of extrajudicial killings that, “We are fighting an enemy.” It may not be a conventional war, but there is “a constant war-like situation,” where “a number of people, including security personnel, are being killed.” In confronting armed groups seeking secession, said democratic India’s principal legal spokesman, “we don’t count bullets. [The] Army does not collect empty shells. We have to fire. We have to save ourselves, save the country and its people.”46

The AFSPA regime makes Northeast India “an anomalous zone” within the republic “in which certain legal rules, otherwise regarded as embodying fundamental policies and values of the larger legal system, are locally suspended.”47 Crime and punishment in a “disturbed area” under AFSPA takes a very different form than in places under ordinary law. Consider section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which prohibits public gatherings of more than four people in times of civil unrest. Local state authorities can impose this restriction in any part of India; and under the IPC an offense is punishable by six months in prison or fine or both. But the same offense in a disturbed area under AFSPA, as Wajahat Habibullah, a distinguished Indian civil servant with extensive experience in such matters, points out, becomes in effect punishable by death.48 What AFSPA effectively does, writes political theorist Ananya Vajpeyi, is to “create an entirely separate space within India, a sort of second and shadow nation.”49 The situation is similar to what political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell once described as “undemocratic sub-national regimes” coexisting with “national-level democratic regimes.” The foundation of a high-quality democracy, says O’Donnell, is “a truly democratic rule of law” and “not simply a rule of law in the minimal, historical sense.” It would be difficult to claim that in a disturbed area under AFSPA, “all public and private agents are subject to appropriate, legally established controls on the lawfulness of their acts,” which defines a democratic rule of law regime.50

There is often a tendency to assume that high voter turnout in regularly held elections, which is the case in Northeast India, is a sign of consent to India’s democratic institutions.51 But consent is never given over to some idealized and abstract notion of democracy and the rule of law; it is given to an actually existing political order. The local face of democracy in some parts of Northeast India can be the hybrid political regimes that I have described. For instance, in Nagaland, observes the anthropologist Jelle J. P. Wouters, “inhabitants often distance themselves (and are distanced from) ideas of India and ‘Indianness’ ” and “a resistance movement against the Indian state continues to hold sway, eliciting considerable local support.” Yet voter turnout in elections is often as high as 80 percent—significantly higher than the national average.52 Indeed, armed groups in Northeast India are often enthusiastic participants in elections—certainly after signing a “peace accord” but before as well. They have a track record of successfully claiming a share of development funds—with the complicity of elected and appointed public officials. Who wins an election has always mattered to leaders of armed groups. They successfully navigate the electoral landscape and pursue alliances with elected politicians and appointed officials. Peace settlements usually bring with them a state commitment to substantially increase funds to promote development. Leaders of armed organizations—in their new role as a local governing authority—can then acquire control over significant public resources. Such arrangements blur the boundary between “state and society, between public and private.”53

There is a long history of resistance to AFSPA in Northeast India. Especially memorable was the sixteen-year hunger strike by Manipuri civil disobedience campaigner Irom Sharmila to focus national attention on the devastating effects on civilian life of a disturbed area proclamation under AFSPA. But the protests had little resonance in the rest of India. What has enabled the persistence of this security regime is the othering of the people of Northeast India, and of the region, and the uncertain place they occupy vis-à-vis the affective boundaries of the nation.


1. H. D. Harootunian, “Postcoloniality’s Unconscious/Area Studies’ Desire,” Postcolonial Studies 2, no. 2 (July 1999): 128.

2. In this book I will use the phrase Northeast India or the Northeast. There is no standard way of writing the name of the region. The 1971 law that created the region as an official entity uses the form “North-Eastern Areas.” The division of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs dealing with the region is called the North East Division, and the central government ministry in charge of the region’s development refers to it as the North Eastern Region.

3. See Peter Sahlins, “Response Paper,” American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Project on “Official and Vernacular Identifications in the Making of the Modern World,” 2003,

4. I paraphrase a statement by literary critic Magda al-Nowaihi made in another context. See Wail S. Hassan, Immigrant Narratives: Orientalism and Cultural Translation in Arab American and Arab British Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 225.

5. Deepshikha Ghosh, “Even Vaastu Shastra Says Northeast Is Important, Says PM Modi,”, March 3, 2018, (emphasis mine).

6. I will treat Northeast India as a region in a “process geographical” sense, not in the sense of “trait geography,” to use the distinction that Arjun Appadurai makes in “Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination,” Public Culture 12, no. 1 (Winter 2000): 6–7. Northeast India is not a permanent geographical fact: an area with a “relatively immobile” set of traits in matters of material and cultural practices. It is an area determined by shifting forces “of action, interaction and motion.” My focus is on some of those forces.

7. George Nathaniel Curzon [Lord Curzon of Kedleston], Frontiers (Romanes Lecture), 1907 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1907).

8. Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat, introduction to Sovereign Bodies: Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World, ed. Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 3.

9. Sikkim’s history is different. Unlike the rest of the region, it does not have a history of armed conflicts.

10. Christian Olsson, “‘Legitimate Violence’ in the Prose of Counterinsurgency: An Impossible Necessity?” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 38, no. 2 (May 2013): 165.

11. Bethany Lacina, “Does Counterinsurgency Theory Apply in Northeast India?” India Review 6, no. 3 (2007): 165–83.

12. Lawrence E. Cline, “The Insurgency Environment in Northeast India,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 17, no. 2 (June 2006): 128.

13. Quoted in Cline, “The Insurgency Environment,” 128.

14. Lacina, “Does Counterinsurgency Theory Apply?” 165.

15. Sanjoy Hazarika, Strangers No More: New Narratives from India’s Northeast (New Delhi: Aleph, 2018), 119.

16. See Sanjib Baruah, “Generals as Governors: The Parallel Political Systems of Northeast India,” Himal Southasian, June 2001, 10–20; and Sanjib Baruah, “Nationalizing Space: Cosmetic Federalism and the Politics of Development in Northeast India,” Development and Change 34, no. 5 (Nov. 2003): 915–39. These articles also appear as chapters 2 and 3 of my Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005).

17. Two other laws with the same name were enacted later: one in 1983 to apply to Punjab and Chandigarh, the other for Jammu and Kashmir in 1990.

18. Government of India, “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958,”

19. UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Addendum: Mission to India, Human Rights Council, 23rd Sess., item 3, April 26, 2013, UN Doc. A/HRC/23/47/Add.1, 7,

20. The annual report of India’s Home Ministry for 2008–9, for example, lists the areas of the region that were declared “disturbed” under the rubric “Steps Taken by Government to Deal with the Situation in the North Eastern Region.” The summary of the security situation that precedes that discussion merely states that “a number of States in the region have been witnessing various forms of insurgency, together with ethnic and communal violence/tensions in some cases.” Among the “disturbed areas” listed, some are located in states that the same report describes as having had either “no violence” or “very limited violence.” Government of India, Annual Report 2008–09 of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (New Delhi: Ministry of Home Affairs, 2009), 10–13,

21. Bibhu Prasad Routray, “China’s New Game in India’s Northeast,”, July 4, 2017,

22. Ajai Sahni, “Unexpected Calm,” South Asia Intelligence Review 14, no. 43, April 25, 2016,

23. South Asia Terrorism Portal, “India—Terrorist, Insurgent and Extremist Groups,” 2017,

24. Khelen Thokchom, “Biren Mulls Rebel Policy,” The Telegraph, Feb. 14, 2018.

25. Interview with T. R. Zeliang, Chief Minister of Nagaland, The Telegraph, June 15, 2015.

26. Shalaka Thakur and Rajesh Venugopal, “Parallel Governance and Political Order in Contested Territory: Evidence from the Indo-Naga Ceasefire,” Asian Security, April 18, 2018, 1,

27. Pankaj Sarma, “Assam Tops All States in Violent Crime,” The Telegraph, July 22, 2018.

28. See Baruah, Durable Disorder.

29. See the discussion of this policy in Chapter 4.

30. See Ujjwal Kumar Singh, The State, Democracy and Anti-terror Laws in India (New Delhi: Sage, 2007), 16–18.

31. Thangkhanlal Ngaihte, “Painting a Wide Canvas with a Broad Brush,” review of Sanjoy Hazarika, Strangers No More: New Narratives from India’s Northeast, Hindustan Times, March 10, 2018.

32. Anil Kalhan et al., “Colonial Continuities: Human Rights, Terrorism, and Security Laws in India,” Columbia Journal of Asian Law 2, no. 1 (2006): 105–6.

33. See Monirul Hussain, Interrogating Development: State, Displacement and Popular Resistance in North East India (New Delhi: Sage, 2008), 62.

34. Evidently, this occurred after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Indian Parliament in 2013 criticized the practice of installing golf courses on land appropriated for defense purposes. Golfing, it said, “could not be considered military activity.” See “Civilians to Lose Playing Privileges on Army Golf Courses,” Indian Express, July 26, 2015.

35. Ajai Kumar Singh, “Note by Dr. Ajai Kumar Singh, Member,” in Report of the Supreme Court Appointed Commission, by N. Santosh Hegde, J. M. Lyngdoh, and Ajai Kumar Singh, vol. 1, pt. 6, 110, March 30, 2013, New Delhi.

36. Paul Staniland, “States, Insurgents, and Wartime Political Orders,” Perspectives on Politics 10, no. 2 (2012): 245.

37. Robert H. Jackson, Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

38. Staniland, “States, Insurgents, and Wartime,” 246.

39. For example, the peace accords signed to resolve the Bodo conflict in Assam follows this logic. In February of 2003, the government of India, the state government of Assam, and the Bodo Liberation Tigers signed a Memorandum of Settlement that provided for creating the Bodoland Territorial Council. M. S. Prabhakara noted in an article published that year that given the “ethnic mix” of the area that came under the jurisdiction of the new body, a number of ethnic communities had reasons “to be apprehensive of the political and economic consequences of a formal acknowledgement of Bodo hegemony in areas which they view, equally, as their home.” Following this settlement, there have been multiple episodes of ethnic violence in the area that followed the lines anticipated in this article. M. S. Prabhakara, “Territories of Fear,” Frontline 20, no. 24 (Nov. 22, 2003):

40. M. A. Athul, “Northeast: Criminal Nexus,” South Asia Intelligence Review 17, no. 12 (Sept. 17, 2018):

41. Dolly Kikon, “The Predicament of Justice: Fifty Years of Armed Forces Special Powers Act in India,” Contemporary South Asia 17, no. 3 (Sept. 2009): 276–78.

42. Justin Rowlatt, “Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People to Protect Rhinos,” BBC News, Feb. 10, 2017,

43. Cited in North East Network, Guwahati, India, “Written Submission to Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW]: CEDAW General Discussion on ‘Women in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations,’ ” CEDAW, 37th Sess., Jan. 15–Feb. 2, 2007,

44. Amitav Ghosh, “The Global Reservation: Notes Toward an Ethnography of International Peacekeeping,” Cultural Anthropology 9, no. 3 (August 1994): 421.

45. UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur, 7.

46. “Bruised Manipur Takes Centrestage,” The Telegraph, Dec. 10, 2015.

47. Gerald L. Neuman, “Anomalous Zones,” Stanford Law Review 48, no. 5 (May 1996): 1201.

48. Wajahat Habibullah, “Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Jammu & Kashmir,” in The Armed Forces Special Powers Act: The Debate, ed. Vivek Chadha (New Delhi: Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis and Lancer’s Books, 2013), 22.

49. Ananya Vajpeyi, “Resenting the Indian State: For a New Political Practice in the Northeast,” in Beyond Counterinsurgency: Breaking the Impasse in Northeast India, ed. Sanjib Baruah (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 36.

50. Guillermo O’Donnell, “Why the Rule of Law Matters,” Journal of Democracy 15, no. 4 (Oct. 2004): 33–39.

51. I will discuss voter turnout in greater detail in my conclusion.

52. Jelle J. P. Wouters, “Polythetic Democracy: Tribal Elections, Bogus Votes, and Political Imagination in the Naga Uplands of Northeast India,” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5, no. 2 (Autumn 2015): 129.

53. Christian Lund, “Twilight Institutions: An Introduction,” Development and Change 37, no. 4 (2006): 678.