Politics and International Relations
This panel will focus upon the transformation driven by the interaction between regional, national and local dynamics occurring at the margins of India's Northeast.
India’s determination to “Look” and now “Act” East has been apparent since the 1990s, and the question of the continental route and role of the Northeast within this proposed reorientation of the national body has been much debated over the past decade. Viewed from the capital, the Northeast has been largely defined by its contiguity with the state territories of Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Bhutan, with the narrow ‘chicken’s neck’ offering the perfect geographical metaphor for the tenuousness of state authority over the region. The attention that was granted to ‘fixing’ the place of the Northeast is the result of the intense insecurity felt by New Delhi regarding its possession of the Northeast region. Yet over the last decade, securing the Northeast has required the Indian government discipline this formerly neglected unruly space and end its ‘isolation’ by improving the region’s connectivity.
The recent attention to connectivity represents the state’s attempts to address the persistent complaints of the region relating to its neglect, and to overcome a series of deficits: democratic, developmental, and of trust. The connectivity which will assure that this marginal space comes to be tied ever more tightly to the main body of India, however, reconstructs the region as a borderland, a demarcated yet ambiguous space that serves as “a dynamic crossroads of geopolitical reconfiguration” (Pachuau & van Schendel 2016) at the confluence of the regions of South, Southeast and East Asia. In asserting its desire for a dynamic Northeast, Delhi finds itself in an awkward bind: releasing the Northeast from its strictures to fulfil its traditional role whilst attempting to assert its sovereign authority over the recalcitrant region.
The papers in this panel shall highlight the inherent contradictions entailed by the approach of the Indian state in its engagement with its Northeastern edge, and examine the selective mobilization or bypassing of the region’s border in the constitution of the Northeast as a political space. By tracing out the inherent contradictions in the state’s approach to mobility and fixity in a variety of geographic and temporal contexts, the panel will not only point to the incoherence of the state’s efforts to fix and make legible this space, but collectively point to such incoherence as emblematic of states in a borderland region.