Developmentalism as Strategy: Interrogating Post-colonial Narratives on India's North East


Rakhee Bhattacharya

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Between Subsistence and Surplus

    Part II: Developmental Impacts on People

    Part III: New Development at the Periphery

    Part IV: Alternative from Below

  • Copyright

    List of Tables


    The chapters in this book attempt to reconstruct the narrative that explains why India's ‘North East’ has, from colonial times and through the different regimes of accumulation that have characterized post-Independence India, remained in the periphery and at the margins of ‘national’ development. As control by national and local elites over the ‘region’, its resources and its development trajectory is increasingly contested, and efforts are on to muddy the waters socially and politically, this is an attempt to return to a history that, while specific, reflects larger processes of subordination to national and global regimes.

    An inherent feature of capitalist development is its unevenness across geographical spaces. One reason for this is that markets are not benign and tend to favour development in centres and regions that are relatively more advanced. A few metropolitan centres and their immediate hinterlands progress, while the rest of the economy (global, national and regional) falls behind. This, however, is not the determining reason for the reproduction of unevenness and inequality across spaces. Rather, as analysts of capitalist accumulation and development theorists have for long recognized, development in the ‘core’, advanced regions occurs at the expense of the underdeveloped periphery, which, besides supplying the primary products needed for industrialization and serving as a ready market for goods, is an important source of surplus to finance accumulation at the metropolitan centre.

    It hardly needs stating that spatial references such as the ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ are abstract and have little to do with actual geographical positions on a globe that discriminates only in terms of climate, soil and natural resources. In fact, seen in those terms, the tropical colonies that proved to be a part of the periphery were far richer than the temperate colonizing regions. Complex historical and socio-economic factors that cannot be detailed here ensured that capitalist development began and gathered momentum in England and other parts of Europe and then spread in very different forms to the colonies and the ‘regions of recent settlement’ such as North America and Australia. While in the latter the best features of capitalism took root, though after the destruction of local populations, in the former, capitalist development did not displace pre-existing pre-capitalist formations and features but was superimposed on them. In the event, capitalist development in the periphery of today was not merely characterized by gradualism and the worst forms of exploitation but also by the reproduction of backwardness. This, however, served the interests of accumulation on a world scale, leading to the conclusion that backwardness and retarded development in the periphery were the other pole required to sustain development at the centre.

    This dependence of metropolitan accumulation on the exploitation of the periphery meant that much of the periphery has remained in that ‘space’ close to three centuries now. Breaking out of backwardness is not just difficult but, when it happens, is the result of fortuitous circumstances as some East Asian examples illustrate. Persisting backwardness is the fate of much of the periphery. This is because the exploitation that permits accumulation at the core results not just in the reproduction of backward social formations (even in reconstructed forms) but also in the destruction of the environment, the plunder of natural resources and the stunting of local accumulation. This is not the fate of just the periphery at a world scale but also within peripheral formations that have their own stunted forms of capitalist development.

    It is a perspective of this kind, elaborately laid out in the introduction, that the chapters in this book bring to bear on an understanding of India's ‘North East’. Reduced to a periphery, despite being rich in resources and endowed with a well-evolved culture, the administratively compartmentalized region is the target of integration into a centre–periphery complex, a site for the reproduction of economic backwardness and the subject of varying forms of patronage under different systems of ‘nationally’ determined accumulation.

    The chapters together are comprehensive in their scope, covering terrain stretching from the specific, culturally embedded, economy of the North East and the distortion of this by so-called ‘modern’ and market-friendly policies to the outcomes in terms of displacement, deprivation and cultural alienation and to the alternatives to be pursued as part of a more inclusive and equitable development strategy. They highlight the social engineering being resorted to in an attempt to ‘integrate’ the region with the ‘mainstream’, which under neoliberalism has meant tying it in the kind of ‘open’ cross-border relations favoured by corporate capital. In the process, the ‘North East’ is internationalized and its geography rhetorically re-imagined as the ‘gateway’ rather than as the ‘periphery’, even while in developmental terms the states of the region, which flaunt new infrastructural facilities, remain marginalized.

    The issues are complex and the solutions hard to find and implement. But the chapters in this book are bound to influence the debate on the direction that all concerned need to take to allow the ‘region’ to find its own trajectory to an economically secure and sustainable future.

    Professor C. P. Chandrasekhar, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi


    The book critically comprehends the conventional approaches to development and the role of the post-colonial developmental State in India. It reviews the consequences in one of India's most contentious regions, the North East. Due to its unique historical geography, the North East has been systematically marginalized and subsequently has become an ‘exception’ to India's economic nationalism. The book examines how the various dominant narratives of India's economic nationalism created an internal core–periphery structure and largely acted as a strategy within the North East in the context of resource appropriation and national security, producing new arrangements of knowledge, power and practices. The strategy started to change with India's neoliberal approach in the 1990s, and currently with the ongoing emphasis on ‘market revivalism and expansionism, the developmental State of India is making’ an ideational change towards achieving a competitive and integrated economy, where ‘geographic marginality’ of the North East is transforming with the semantics of ‘natural gateway’, ‘engine of dynamism’ and ‘whirlwind of modernity’. Having a methodology primarily evolving from the ‘margin’ and with an interdisciplinary approach, the book attempts to break stereotypical narratives and looks for an alternative by means of rationality and objective knowledge about this region. The book is structured with a long introduction to spell out the trajectory of development in the post-colonial period, while the chapters are the narrations of the discourses of such development in India's North East. The cover page with two distinct images also describes the core theme of the book. Both the images spell out the existing connectivity infrastructure of the North East, which is one of the major determinants of the State's strategy on development and security in the North East. The top image is the 9.15-km-long Dhola-Sadiya Bridge on River Lohit, which was opened in 2017 to connect upper Assam and eastern Arunachal Pradesh, a region bordering China. The bottom image is an old bridge in the Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh, ensuring local connectivity and everyday lives across its hard and inhospitable hilly terrains.

    The book has become possible with the immense support of all the eminent and distinguished scholars who have contributed with their diverse and insightful perspectives to achieve its goal. I am deeply thankful to all of them for their excellent cooperation. The idea of the book was initiated at the Special Centre for the Study of North East India, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, after a series of discussion with faculty members on the necessity to bring out a critical series on the study of the North East; this series can benefit students and researchers to clear many of the existing elusive ideas on the region. The present book is an endeavour to understand economic development as the vantage ground to elucidate many such ideas on the North East. My sincere thanks therefore goes to all my colleagues. I am ever grateful to my son Gaurav, who always takes out time from his busy schedule to edit my drafts. I am thankful to my PhD scholar Devpriya Sarkar who helped me in arranging the bibliography of each chapter in the last hour. Last but not least, I express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the SAGE team for their kind consent and cooperation to publish this book. The weaknesses of the book would have been far greater without the kind of support from all of them.

    Rakhee Bhattacharya
  • About the Editor and Contributors


    Rakhee Bhattacharya is Associate Professor and teaches Development Economics at the Special Centre for the Study of North East India, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Some of her earlier professional associations were with Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, New Delhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata, and National Council for Applied Economic Research, New Delhi. She has worked on several national and international research projects, including with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). She has done both policy and academic research in various issues of political economy, development economics and security studies. She was an Endeavour Post-Doctoral Fellow at the School of International Studies, University of South Australia, Adelaide. Her areas of research interests are political economy, development economics, regional economy, transnational economy and geoeconomics, poverty and inequality, geopolitics and security, India's North East and its neighbourhood. She has a number of publications to her credit in both national and international journals. She is also a regular columnist in the Statesman. Some of her edited and co-edited books are Regional Development and Public Policy Challenges in India (2015), A Journey through the Stilwell Road (2011, with B. K Mishra), Perilous Journey: Debates on Security and Development in Assam (2011, with S. Pulipaka), Tradition and Modernity in Arunachal Pradesh (2012, with S. Pulipaka and Sarit Chaudhuri) and Sikkim's Tryst with Nathu La: What Awaits India's East and Northeast? (2009, with J. K. Ray and K. Bandyopadhyay). She has authored Development Disparities in Northeast India (2011) and Northeastern India and its Neighbours: Negotiating Security and Development (2014).


    Gurudas Das is Professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology, Silchar, Assam. Earlier he was associated with the Centre for Himalayan Studies, North Bengal University, Siliguri, St Anthony's College, Shillong, OKD Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati, and North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. His areas of research interests include security and development, cross-border trade and development cooperation and geoeconomics and geopolitics of regional growth and development. Besides contributing to many edited books, he is also widely published in many acclaimed national and international journals. He has authored Security and Development in India's North East (2012), co-authored and co-edited Look East to Act East Policy: Implications for India's Northeast (2015) and BCIM Economic Cooperation: Interplay of Geoeconomics and Geo-politics (2018).

    Samir K. Das is Professor of Political Science at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata. He is former Vice Chancellor of the University of North Bengal. He was the Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Social Science Research Council (South Asia Program), Visiting Fellow at the European Academy, Bolzano, Italy, Adjunct Professor of Government at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, and Visiting Professor of the North East India Studies Programme at JNU and at the University of 13 Sorbonne-Paris-Cite. His areas of research interests are ethnicity, identity, security, migration, rights and justice. He has contributed over 190 research papers to both national and international journals and edited many books. Some of his authored books include Migrations, Identities and Democratic Practices (2018), Governing India's Northeast: Essays on Insurgency, Development and the Culture of Peace (2013) and Conflict and Peace in India's Northeast: The Role of Civil Society (2006).

    Akhil Ranjan Dutta is Professor in the Department of Political Science at Gauhati University, Guwahati. He is an academic activist and engaged with both academic research and socio-political activities concerning human rights and dignity in the region of the North East. He was a Rotary World Peace Fellow in 2009 at the International Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. His areas of research interests include citizenship, human rights and security and development studies. He has compiled and edited The Conscientious Statesman: Gaurisankar Bhattacharyya in Assam Legislative Assembly (2015) and Human Security in North East India: Issues & Policies (2009) apart from contributing research articles in Economic and Political Weekly, Social Change (SAGE Publications), Studies in Indian Politics (SAGE Publications) and so on. He is also a regular columnist in Assamese dailies.

    Walter Fernandes is a Senior Fellow at the North Eastern Social Research Centre (NESRC), Guwahati, Assam. He was Director of Research at Animation and Research Centre, Yangon, Myanmar (2013–15), and Founder-Director of NESRC (2000–11). Before moving to the North East, he was Director, Director of Research and of Tribal Studies at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi (1977–99), and Editor of the journal Social Action (1985–93). He has also been on several Government of India committees. His areas of research interests include tribal issues, gender issues, development-induced displacement, conflicts and peace. He has more than 40 books and around 200 professional articles on these issues to his credit. Some of his authored and co-authored books are The Challenges of Development: Displacement in Nagaland, 1947–2010; Progress: At What Costs? Development induced Displacement in West Bengal, 1947–2000; and The Development Dilemma: Displacement in Meghalaya, 1947–2010.

    Thongkholal Haokip is Assistant Professor at Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU. He was formerly with the Department of Political Science, Presidency University, Kolkata. His areas of research interests include governance, ethnicity and ethnic relations, borderland studies, India's Look East Policy and North East India studies. He has authored India's Look East Policy and the Northeast (2015), edited The Kukis of Northeast India: Politics and Culture (2013) and jointly edited The Anglo-Kuki War 1917–1919: A Frontier Uprising against Imperialismduring the First World War (2019). He is the editor of Journal of North East India Studies and executive editor of Asian Ethnicity.

    Deepak K. Mishra is Professor of Economics at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, JNU. His research interests include the political economy of agrarian change, rural livelihoods and agrarian institutions, migration, gender and human development. He has a large number of publications to his credit. He has co-authored The Unfolding Crisis in Assam's Tea Plantations: Employment and Occupational Mobility (2012), has jointly edited Rethinking Economic Development in Northeast India: The Emerging Dynamics (2017) and has edited Internal Migration in Contemporary India (SAGE Publications, 2016). He has contributed to the first Human Development Report of Arunachal Pradesh (2005) and the Arunachal Pradesh Development Report (2009).

    Tiplut Nongbri is Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew Chair Professor, Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. She was Professor of Sociology at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU. She was the founding Director of the North East India Studies Programme at JNU. Her areas of research interest include sociology of kinship, gender studies, environmental sociology, ethnicity and identity issues, sociology of tribes and marginal groups. She has a number of publications to her credit, and she has authored Gender, Matrilini and Entrepreneurship: The Khasis of North-East India; Tribal Demography and Development in North-East India (with A. Bose and N. Kumar); Development, Ethnicity and Gender; and Migration, Identity and Conflict: Lived Experiences of Northeasterners in Delhi (with Shimreiwung).

    Felix Padel is research associate at the Department of Anthropology at Oxford and at the Centre for World Environment History at Oxford. He has been professor and has held visiting positions at various institutes of higher education in India including the North East India Studies Programme at JNU. Being an anthropologist, his areas of research interests include indigenous and tribal people, environmental and human rights issues. He has written extensively on these issues. He has authored and co-authored The Sacrifice of Human Being: British Rule and the Konds of Orissa (1995, new edition 2010 as Sacrificing People: Invasions of a Tribal Landscape); Out of this Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel (2010, with Samarendra Das); and Ecology, Economy: Quest for a Socially Informed Connection (2013, with Ajay Dandekar and Jeemol Unni).

    Anita Sengupta is Director of Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata. She was a Fellow at Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata. She is an area studies specialist and engages with issues of identity politics, migration, gender, borders, critical geopolitics and logistics. She is a regular commentator on debates on Asian affairs and is part of Asia in Global Affairs, an independent research forum that looks at a wide range of global issues from an Asian perspective. She has authored Symbols and the Image of the State in Eurasia (2016); Myth and Rhetoric of the Turkish Model: Exploring Developmental Alternatives (2014); Heartlands of Eurasia: The Geopolitics of Political Space (2009); The Formation of the Uzbek Nation-State: A Study in Transition (2003); and Frontiers into Borders: The Transformation of Identities in Central Asia (2002).

    Archana Sharma is Professor of Economics at Gauhati University, Guwahati. She was the Director of Women's Studies Research Centre, Gauhati University, for more than 16 years and established the Centre as a full-fledged department. Her areas of research interests include woman studies, labour market, poverty, inequality and income distribution in India with special emphasis on the North East. She has a number of publications to her credit. She has contributed immensely in designing and structuring various important curricula and courses at both university and college levels. She has co-authored many textbooks on economics and has written in popular journals.

    Jiten Yumnam is a human rights activist and holds the position of Secretary at the Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur, an indigenous peoples’ human rights organization based in Manipur in the North East. He is the former Co-Chair of the post-2015 Working Group of CSO Partnerships for Development Effectiveness (CPDE). He currently is an advisor of the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network. His areas of interests include indigenous people, ethnic community, human rights issues and environment. He writes regularly with media units in the North East, such as Imphal Free Press, Sangai Express and so on. He is also a filmmaker and produces documentary films on indigenous peoples’ rights and issues in Manipur.

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website