ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Learning from Lebanon

Conflict and Reconciliation: The Politics of Ethnicity in Assam by Uddipana Goswami (Routledge India, 2013); pp 252, Rs 486.

Political power and the use of violence to gain it usually go hand in hand, especially in areas where the ethnic balance is as tenuous and contested as it is in Assam. The state’s ethnic diversity has prompted many to call it a mini-India. Once much larger than what it is now, the British province of Assam contained a vast multitude of ethnic groups. The reorganisation of states in independent India on linguistic lines appeared to perpetuate the domination and preponderance of the ethnic Assamese and the failure of its elite to resolve or contain ethnic conflicts led to the break-up of the once large imperial province of Assam. Several smaller – some say financially unviable – states came into existence in the North East, all now locked in unending border conflicts with the mother state Assam.

But the creation of these small states has fuelled demands for more. At least three major tribes – Bodos, Dimasas, Karbis – are asking for separate states. Some like the Bodos argue that if one million Nagas or half a million Mizos could get a separate state, why should not two million-plus Bodos have one too? The fact that those states were created after the Nagas and Mizos had resorted to intense armed insurgency has encouraged a host of Bodo militant groups to take the same path since the late 1980s. The failure of successive Assam governments to work out adequate power-sharing arrangements that would give ethnic groups such as the Bodos greater say in local self-governments has aggravated the ethnic divide.

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