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Rise in regional, secessionist forces 'triggering' heightened violence in India: Study

By Rajiv Shah
Is India compulsively moving towards a situation where centripetal tendencies are increasingly challenging centrifugal tendencies? A new research work, which has studied "link" between regional parties and secessionist forces, and resultant violence, goes a long way to imply that India's federal structure, governed from Delhi, is becoming fragile and may come under stress. For, already, no amount of "appeasement" of regional aspirations or "clampdown" on them is helping mitigate the situation.
The study comes amidst the ruling BJP, which acquired absolute majority in Parliament, seeking to appease the Naga aspirations by reportedly agreeing to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) demand for a separate flag and a separate passport. It also comes following the BJP victory at the Centre leading to a resurgence in the long dormant aspiration for a separate Dravidian state.
The study, "Regional Representation and Secessionist Violence in India", by Sacha Kapoor and Arvind Magesan, belonging respectively to the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands, the University of Calgary, Canada, covers 28 states and 2 union territories (New Delhi and Puducherry), sampling elections where a regional party was the winner or runner-up in 3,925 constituencies.
It relies on the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) and the Georeferenced Event Dataset (GED), calling them the "most comprehensive database on political violence in India, compiling information for 1989 onwards from a range of sources", as also "primary sources", army and police, and secondary sources, Associated Press, BBC, local media, and the violence database of the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP).
Pointing towards the extent of tension following the rise of regional political aspirations of regional outfits, the study says, "The election of a regional party candidate increases the occurrence of a violent event and death in the home constituency of the elected representative by 7.2 percentage points and the number of violent events and deaths by 9.9 and 13.4 percent."
It further says, "In states with an active secessionist movement, a win by a regional party candidate increases the probability of a violent event occurring in the subsequent inter-election years by 14 percentage points and the number of violent events by 26.3 percent. The number of deaths due to political violence increases by 40 percent."
The study believes, "These increases are explained by heightened secessionist violence between rebel groups and government forces. As regional parties and secessionist rebels have a shared history and overlapping agendas, regional party representatives facilitate or overlook rebel activities in their constituencies in exchange for rebel support at election time."
The study points out, "Regional parties in India are often the children of historical regional movements for autonomy or full independence" and such they "retain complex and lasting ties with violent secessionist organizations." It adds, "In addition to the personal relationships that link the regional parties and secessionist organizations, they tend to make similar regional and ethnic appeals, as well as represent many of the same grievances and demands."
Stating that "violence increases when the regional party representative is an outsider to the governing coalition", the study finds, "The election of a regional party representative who is part of the opposition increases the occurrence of a violent event by almost 24 percent."
According to the study, "A regional party representative increases the occurrence of a violent event occurring by 14.4 percentage points in states with a secessionist movement." But "a regional party representative increases the occurrence of a violent event by 6.5 percentage points in states without a secessionist movement."
Suggesting that clampdown has not helped overcome regional aspirations and the resultant tensions, the study says, the states with a secessionist movements, especially in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), were sought to be curtailed with the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which accords the Indian military "special powers in areas that have been deemed disturbed areas”.
It notes, AFSPA is "extremely controversial, as armed forces are given the ability to shoot to kill under very broad conditions, the ability to arrest on suspicion and without a warrant, and provides officers with immunity from prosecution in the event that the powers are abused."
"Fundamental human rights have been violated in the 'disturbed states' on a fairly large scale, and Indian soldiers have come to be viewed as a symbol of oppression, and have only served to increase the animosity between locals and the central government", it adds.
The study elucidates, "All this is supported by raw statistics on police presence across India. From 2001-2012, there was 5.57 police per 1000 persons in secessionist states, whereas there were only 1.91 police per 1000 persons in non-secessionist states."
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 'disturbed areas' has served to increase the animosity between locals and the central government
The study further says that having representatives in "the national or state parliaments may not appease these populations because, while local representatives improve opportunities for power sharing with the central executive, these opportunities may not translate into actual power sharing."
Thus, it says, "This argument aligns with events in Nagaland and Manipur, who were granted statehood within the Indian federation in 1963 and 1972, respectively, and where the granting of 'substantial autonomy' caused armed groups’ demands to be more radicalized and violence to intensify."
"It is unsurprising, therefore, that federal structures are met with resistance, that these populations elect one of their own, and that the person they elect facilitates or incites secessionist violence against the center", it adds.
The study says, "The violence in states with secessionist movements in India is almost exclusively of two types, anti-regime violence and Sons of the Soil violence, the latter a consequence of the nativism which often precedes or attends secessionist sentiment."
"Sons of Soil violence occurs when one ethnic group, typically indigenous to the region, deems itself the rightful inheritor of the land and its economic advantages, and takes up arms against perceived invaders and wrongful competitors", it adds.
The study notes, "This is a common theme in India’s North-East, for example, where episodes of large scale immigration from both Bangladesh and other Indian states has stoked violence for several decades", adding, "The electoral support generated by paramilitaries weakens the incentives of central governments to eliminate non-state armed actors..."
Thus, "A number of political parties in the Northeast have formed over the years to represent the interests of 'indigenous' ethnic groups who themselves seek greater autonomy together with greater economic and cultural protection from Bengali speaking immigrants."
Providing reasons how regional political outfits become important, it says, "The combination of the two factors -- concentrated ethnic populations and decentralized power -- is a powerful explanation for the rise of regional parties in India, and likely explains why regional political parties have greater prominence in state legislative assemblies rather than the national parliament."

Comments

Anonymous said…
From reading this account, it seems as though the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland- maybe Manipur, Assam, but we don't know that- are being used to make a sweeping statistical argument about 'secessionist' and 'non-secessionist' states, with the common thread being 'regional political parties.' Can the Naga People's parties or the PDP/National Conference really be compared with, say, the DMK, TRS, Shiv Sena or Trinamool? One could argue that outfits like the Congress and CPI (M) in Kerala, for example, are for all practical purposes regional parties. This sort of data-mongering is harmlessly obtuse generally, but at this point when increasing centralization looms, it's really quite irresponsible.
Uma said…
The national register is a bad idea. People living in India for several decades and without breaking laws except illegal entry should not be thrown out. After all they now have their roots here. And the soldier who served in the army is not a citizen??!

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