Durable Disorder:Understanding the Politics of Northeast India by Sanjib Baruah ( Oxford University Press, 2005)

As it has been argued by the author, Sanjib Baruah himself, ‘Durable Disorder’ is an invitation to think about India’s North East Region’s political troubles outside the hackneyed paradigm of ‘insurgency’. The book focuses on the core aspects of the North East's political life like formal and informal structures of governance and the problems of a democracy deficit.

At the very outset, the author expresses his displeasure about the radical redrawing of the region’s political map in 1960s, he defined it as ‘a hurried exercise in political engineering’. For a reader, who is just introduced to the study of this region, who has only a preliminary knowledge of the same, a proper understanding of the geographic location and configuration is ardently required. The book provides an in depth description of the North East Region along with its virtues and vices. It is highly informative and rightly explains that those regions of the country which lack the process of standardization associated with the rise and consolidation of nation-states, such as the emergence of the print media, national languages, widespread literature and national educational systems, are perhaps significantly more diverse than those areas which are well- equipped with such attributes.

The book delves into a couple of chapters focusing on the multifarious dimensions of the North East Region the politics of development, Naga war, the life and activities of the United Liberation Front of Assam ( ULFA), crisis of displacement and most importantly the epilogue underscores the significance of the liaison between North East Region and India’s Look East Policy.

The book drives its readers to grasp an extensive knowledge on the prevailing hard- core realities of the region and creditably mentions the nexus between mainstream politicians and militants. The author states that the insurgencies in North East are not headed towards any utilitarian goals but are basically meant for extracting more resources from New Delhi. The book exposes that prolonged counter insurgency operations in the area have practically eroded the democratic fabric of the region and rather capacitated the army to institutionalize its authoritarian practices.

The book enumerates that North East Region’s ethnic militias, ethnic student associations and other political organizations are capable enough of taxing citizens which implies squandering of money for baseless purposes and the wide practice of protective discrimination in North East Region actually retards the pace of progress to a large extent. This fact evokes the question of how the region could possibly benefit from any Central policy, when their human resource is continually having to contend with undelivered promises. What are the plausible ways to overcome these crises? The book cites that in 2001, the then Indian Home Minister, L.K Advani complained that money allocated for the region’s development often finds its way to the coffers of the militias. So did the government take any proactive measures to verify where the money was being utilized?

The book clearly conveys that the counter-insurgency mindset is unable to decipher the challenges plaguing North East India. There are a number of instances which prove that the weaknesses of the state that sustain the plethora of militias have a disconcerting affinity with situations of state failure. The author develops a post-structuralist critique of the theory and practice of the development in North East Region. The author is quite pessimist about the government's generous financial packages conducive to the development of North East Region. The author opines that 'if money could solve problems North East India by now should have been on the cusp of both an economic revolution and political breakthrough'.

The author is quite optimistic about the potential impact of India's Look East Policy on its North East Region. The Policy does provide opportunities for the region to avail the fruits of globalization by acquiring access to global markets and technology which will surely empower the region to overcome the handicaps of its landlocked condition. As the book highlights that it can also create a transnational space for a less territorialized version of the politics of recognition that animate the ethno- national conflicts of North East Region. The economic integration of the region with South East Asia through the pursuit of dynamic Look East Policy can go a long way in bringing about stability, peace and prosperity.

Baruah has elaborated on the links between North East Region and South East Asia. He has highlighted the importance of the division of labour (with concrete examples) in this era of globalization. To highlight the intensity of integration between India and ASEAN he talked about the multiple collaborative overtures undertaken by the two. He surmises that the eventual success of India’s Look East Policy will depend on India’s ability to embrace both a maritime and a continental thrust in its LEP and one way to ensure a continental orientation to the Look East Policy would be to give a direct role and importance to the NE states. He warns about the risks, the possible obstacles involved in the Policy. He alleges that India has been hesitant about projecting North East Region in its Look East Policy unlike the way Chinese projects Yunnan and he has specified the reason for this apprehension. He shared a very positive view about the risks involved in accomplishing the Policy citing sociologist Anthony Gidden’s statement- ‘ A positive embrace of risk,’ writes sociologist Anthony Giddens, ‘ is the very source of that energy which creates wealth in a modern economy. Risk is the mobilizing dynamic of a society bent on change, that wants to determine its own future rather than leaving it to religion, tradition, or the vagaries of nature’ (Pg-234). He concluded if the LEP is to live up to its potential of becoming NE India’s road to peace and prosperity we will have to face up to the risks that exist and actively assess and manage them.

Sayantani Sen Mazumdar