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Nagaland and Sovereignty

What a curious coincidence that my first introduction to Nagaland came in the past few months as I have been reading about the Japanese offensive in Burma in 1944, and now I should come across an article about Nagaland and sovereignty. I learned about it in an interesting article about Naga’s relationship with India (“Basic Sovereignty”). The article is a bit slow to come into focus, but its main point seems to be that sovereignty is not a single concept but a whole series of ideas that might be thought of as existing in layers. At a basic layer (the most fundamental, one might say) is political sovereignty; then there is a middle layer of culture, and finally a top layer of economic resources. The author makes the important (and oft-overlooked) point that the British Empire usually left areas in control of the two bottom layers.

Although the author does not seem to think highly of British control, it appears that Nagaland is facing a much more fundamental issue now, because India is more concerned with the basic level of sovereignty. I’ll be honest, I was only vaguely aware of centrifugal tendencies in India, and this article has brought them front and center to my attention. The Indian constitution contains a whole series of special provisions (Part XXI, Articles 370 and 371A-J) guaranteeing protections for certain regions; Nagaland is covered in Article 371A. Unfortunately, the Indian constitution is not as difficult to circumvent as the American one is, and Article 370 (on Jammu and Kashmir) has been completely abrogated. I gather from this article that Nagaland does not consider its protections sufficient, and the author refers to the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958) — which gave the Indian Army special powers in “disturbed areas,” one of which was the Naga Hills — as “inhuman.”

“Sovereignty” was a new concept in the 17th century and most theorists said that it could not be divided. In practice, however, the idea of giving special protections (“liberties”) to some regions was very much in the spirit of the age, a custom going back far into the Middle Ages. It is easy for someone situated on the other side of the globe to regard India as a unitary state and not to be aware of the conflicts and separatist aspirations of its provinces, but clearly these very much do exist. The author cites John Naisbitt (author of Megatrends ) as saying that there will be 1000 nations by 2100. I doubt this, but one could definitely imagine dozens of new nations arising if current independence movements got their way. Sure, it doesn’t seem likely now, but who thought we would see an indepedent Tajikistan, Ukraine, or Macedonia 50 years ago?

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