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‘A state of one’s own’: secessionism and federalism in India

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Ever since the 'ethnic explosion' and secessionism blasted across the world in the mid-1980s, theorists have worked overtime to devise solutions to what appears to be an intractable problem. The problem is simply this: how can the escalation of ethnic discontent into violence, armed struggle and demands for separation be pre-empted? Violent conflicts can be managed, but when politics in the violent mode overlaps with identity issues, the problem verges on the insoluble. However, ethnic wars have to be forestalled, simply because they have inflicted incalculable harm on the human condition - grave and massive violations of human rights, dislocations, homelessness, desecration, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Basically, three solutions are on offer to resolve the problem: institutionalisation of democracy; federalism or decentralisation of power and resources and minority rights. Democracy assures citizens that their fundamental rights will be protected through the institutionalisation of two basic norms - participation and accountability. Federalism in and for plural societies is not only about decentralisation of power and resources to territorially distinct administrative units, it is also about such decentralisation to the dominant ethnic group which inhabits these territories, so that the group acquires a stake in the system. Democracy and federalism must be backed by the constitutional sanction of minority rights in order to prove effective. The problem is that the establishment of democracy, federalism, and minority rights in India has not precluded violent politics, armed rebellion, and secessionism in Punjab, Mizoram, Jammu and Kashmir (J and K), and Manipur. Today, Punjab and Mizoram are post-conflict societies but until the late 1980s these two states were wracked by tremendous violence and demands for secession. The other two states continue to be torn apart by the same phenomenon. Something has gone seriously wrong with the performance of democratic and federal institutions in this part of the country and it is the task of a responsible political theorist to see what has gone wrong and where. As Dunn sagely reminds us ‘the purpose of political theory is to diagnose political predicaments and to show us how best to confront them.’

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en

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application/pdf

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/28146/1/wp80.pdf

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