Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case-Study of Punjab

Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case-Study of Punjab

Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case-Study of Punjab

Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case-Study of Punjab


This important new book critically evaluates the conventional reading of ethnicity and ethnic conflict in contemporary Indian politics. By focusing on India's nation and state-building in the peripheral regions since 1947, in particular Punjab, it argues that there is a case for considering India as an ethnic democracy. The long-term development of ethno-nationalist separatist movements and the future character of Indian democracy is assessed in light of the challenge posed by the rise of Hindutva forces, the demise of the Nehruvian state, and the internal political and economic pressures towards regionalization.


This volume brings together essays written between 1987 and 1997. With the exception of Chapters 5, 6 and 12, they have been published as articles in journals. Where appropriate I have taken the opportunity to make minor revisions. Because some of these essays were written concurrently, as self-contained pieces, occasionally an element of overlap remains.

The rationale for this collection is that it deals with common themes of ethnicity, ethnic conflict and its management by the Indian state in the peripheral regions. In a way the essays on the 'Punjab problem' over the last decade have constituted the building-blocks of the volume. The more general chapters are, indeed, late additions and demonstrate a concern to evaluate and contextualize the 'Punjab problem' in a comparative setting.

Despite the dated nature of some of the earlier essays, which obviously reflect my own understanding at the time, I have attempted to base the volume on two main arguments. First, the shortcomings of what I call 'conventional wisdom' — the traditional way of reading ethnicity and ethnic conflict in Indian politics, an outlook that has been reinforced by most post-structural and rational choice approaches which view ethnicity as a form of interest-based identity politics. By drawing on the recent radical reassessments of the Indian state, an alternative approach is developed which suggests that India should be viewed as a de facto ethnic democracy in which Hinduism functions as a form of meta-ethnicity. The limits of Indian nationalism, it is argued, are very much 'ethnic' and apparent in the failure of nation-building in the peripheral regions of the union. The politics of ethnicity and ethnic conflict are accordingly strongly influenced by these factors.

Second, with reference specifically to Punjab, but also Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states, the rise and fall of ethnonationalist movements is examined within the frameworks of hegemonic and violent control — the outer limits of India's ethnic democracy within which these movements are politically accommodated or physically suppressed. Hegemonic and violent control, it is asserted, are the operational mechanisms for managing peripheral ethno-nationalist movements. And although these mechanisms have . . .

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