The Politics of Power vs The Politics of Identity-Understanding the Dynamics of Statehood Demands in Assam


The geographical landmass of India, like most other post-colonial nations, has been an inheritance from its colonial past. An outcome of geopolitics, the North-eastern region of India remains marginalized and isolated, while being connected to the rest of the country through a narrow corridor – the ‘chicken-neck’in northern Bengal, which barely accounts for one percent of the region, while on all the other sides, it is enclosed by international boundaries. This region is characterized by extraordinary ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, with more than 160 Scheduled Tribes and over 400 distinct tribal and sub-tribal groupings, and a large diverse nontribal population concentrated mainly in Assam, Manipur and Tripura. An estimated 220 dialects belonging to the Indo-Aryan, Sino-Tibetan, and Austro- Asiatic language families are spoken in the region, which may be said to be the largest concentration of languages in the subcontinent (Bhaumik, 2007).The ‘North-eastern’ region of India comprises the seven Indian states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, - which are also known as the “Seven Sisters”, and since 2003, Sikkim has also been included as the eighth member of the regional North Eastern Council (NEC). While the state of Nagaland attained statehood in 1963, most of the states in the region were reorganized between 1971 & 1987 and the three states of Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, were carved out of the larger state of Assam in the 1970s. Thus the state of Assam as it stands today has been carved out of a much larger political entity, with an ancient past (Bhaumik, 2007).