The State and Societies in Northeastern India: Explaining Manipur’s Breakdown and Mizoram’s Order
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The conflicts and disorder in North East India have mostly been explained using the grievance narrative – referring to the alienation of communities in the region due to postcolonial nation making and because of people’s poor access to power, resources and opportunities. But these explanations fail to account for the large variance in political outcomes within the North East. An exploration of the political history of the region demonstrates that disorder accompanies a contested and weak authority of state agencies and the fragmentation of society. This state-society reading of politics may help in unraveling the differing success with political order in two States in the region – Manipur and Mizoram. Understanding the differing capabilities of the two States with political order, then, requires delving into history to study the process of state making in colonial and post colonial times and how state elites used political organisations to construct and mobilize collective identities to acquire legitimacy.
My research, which is a comparative case study and is based on archival research, study of newspaper reports, use of public and private documents and conduct of in-depth interviews, demonstrates that in Mizoram the process of state making – involving both the establishing of state and political apparatuses that could mobilize State-wide inclusive politics – was such that it consolidated and strengthened the authority of the state and the capability of its agencies to provide services, manage contestations and avoid breakdown. In Manipur, it was traditional centres of authority with their localized manner of organization that characterised state making. Persistence of traditional centres of power has resulted in weak social control on the part of state actors and poor capability of its agencies to provide services and establish order. The crucial difference between Manipur and Mizoram, then, and which has a bearing on conflict outcomes, is the centrality of the state in the lives of people. These findings have implications for both future research – how to enhance the institutional capability of the state in situations of multiple authority systems – and for policy interventions – restoring order demands that, among other things, the state is made the central pillar of society