For much of the past three months, the northeastern Indian state of Manipur—nestled right up against the border with Myanmar—has been the site of a conflict between two groups: the majority Meiteis and the minority Kukis. The fighting–with scenes of brutal violence, looting of police stations, and burnt places of worship–even sparked a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The region of northeast India has long posed a challenge for its leaders, both local and national. Geographically isolated from the rest of India due to partition and the awkward placement of what eventually becomes Bangladesh, the region soon features countless ethnic groups demanding authority and autonomy in the newly independent India—at times, through violent resistance—and a heavy-handed national administration quite willing to impose martial law to get things under control.
Journalist Samrat Choudhury writes about this region in his latest book, Northeast India: A Political History (Oxford UP, 2023). Samrat talks about the region’s eight states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim, and their experience under first the British, and then newly-independent India.
Samrat is a journalist and former newspaper editor who has written for major papers and magazines in Britain, the US, Asia and Europe. He has edited anthologies, contributed to academic publications, and authored books including novel The Urban Jungle (Penguin Books India: 2011) and travelog The Braided River: A Journey Along the Brahmaputra (HarperCollins: 2021).
Today, Samrat and I talk about this region’s sometimes messy history, its experience with insurgencies and the tough government reaction, and touch briefly on what’s happening in Manipur today.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.