Arupjyoti SaikiaNov 16, 2023
The Quest for Modern Assam
A History, 1942-2000
India Allen Lane 2023
The northeast Indian state of Assam has had a complex history. As independence loomed, Assam was a large British province, bordering the fellow British colony of Burma and covering a large segment of India’s northeast. Today’s Assam is much smaller: First partition cut Assam off from the rest of India, with just a tiny “chicken neck” of land connecting the state with India proper. Then decades of tension between the Assamese and minority groups led to new states being created from within its borders: Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram, to name a few.
Arupjyoti Saikia takes on the task of explaining six decades of Assam history in his latest book, The Quest for Modern Assam: A History, 1942-2000 (India Allen Lane, 2023)
In this interview, Arupjyoti and I talk about Assam’s history from the Second World War and the decades since independence, including some of the wild schemes the British tried to apply to the Indian northeast, and why it’s important to understand Indian history through its federal states.
Arupjyoti Saikia is a professor of history at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati. He held the Agrarian Studies Programme Fellowship at Yale University and visiting fellow positions at Cambridge University and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He is also the author of Forests and Ecological History of Assam, 1826-2000 (Oxford University Press: 2011), A Century of Protests: Peasant Politics in Assam since 1900 (Routledge: 2014), and The Unquiet River: A Biography of the Brahmaputra (Oxford University Press: 2019).
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.