Organic State: New Nexus, encroaching state?

Elsewhere, Z Geography has argued that the lack of the state’s presence has facilitated the rise of (often violent) alternatives to the state. If I haven’t then now I have! The corollary, of course, is that once the state expands into an area then, presumably, the environment is less conducive to a violent insurgency (file all of this under: The Organic State).

This is my hypothesis for the latest Indian state of Telangana, which became the 29th official state in that country’s union (see BBC). As we can see from the two maps below (a little bit of map analysis) the state of Telangana is inheriting a bit of a problem with the naxalite/Maoist insurgency. Back in 2010, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called naxalism (named for the West Bengal town that birthed the movement, Naxalbari) the “biggest internal security challenge” facing India. Much of the Telangana (if not all of it) were declared severely Maoist/naxalite-affected by a government study in 2007.

However, the creation of Telangana could be a potential solution for the insurgency, at least in those districts. Like all insurgencies, the naxals thrive in areas inaccessible to state power, in May the Times of India noted a landmine blast in a forest in eastern Maharashtra killed 7 security officers. The other side of the equation, of course, is local support of which Indian tribes provide some support to the movement, not necessarily ideological. Another article from an independent news site suggests two reasons (basically unanticipated policy effects) for tribal support to the Maoists (here).

Telangana could be a solution in that it brings the state, India, closer to the insurgency. It brings a, theoretically, representative government to a smaller number of people in a smaller geographic area. Eventually, the people of Telangana will not have to compete with the local interests of voters in other areas of Andhra Pradesh. This sounds good on paper, the new state government will have to contend with official corruption (always an effective recruitment tool for an insurgency) and a much smaller budget.

On this last point Maharashtra, a state to the west (capital: Mumbai), is reportedly developing infrastructure in naxalite-affected districts to promote tourism (as reported by Times of India). This may be an effective short-term solution, tourism may provide additional employment for locals while also investing them in a wider economy, not to mention that the state security vehicles and tourist buses can use the same roads. Longer-term slaving the local economy to tourism is almost begging for violent disruption (see The Telegraph: Egypt).

Over the next decade, Telangana will slowly come into its own as a state. By then, Z Geography thinks that the naxalite insurgency will disappear from the state or, at least, be driven into obscurity like Spain’s ETA.

India’s New State: Telangana (via BBC)

Maoist Presence within India (2007, via Wikipedia)

Brazen Belligerents Bound for Blood over Borders?: India, Japan and China

Remember Samuel Huntington? The theorist behind the “clash of civilizations”? One of his comments that has stuck to me is the “bloody borders” of civilizations. For him, he pointed to “Islam’s” bloody border as evidence to the veracity of his hypothesis. Quick note: I’m not a big fan of Huntington’s theory, primarily from the point view of the modifiable area unit problem (MAUP alert!). Like any theory its over-extrapolation of… humans. As any person over the age of 20 knows, people are wildly different even within small communities.

But I also believe in salvaging aspects of theories that could still be useful. From Huntington, I like the idea of the bloody borders. Why? Mostly because it makes sense and I like reason and logic. While no one is going to be able to define what constitutes a “civilization” (unless you’re Sid Meier), we have plenty of states to examine. And states’ borders are just as bloody. I could fly into a nice tangent about the organic state in regards to bloody borders, but I’ll save that, but in addition to the unclear and missing state presence in borderlands, there’s also the issue of population. Population groups in borderland regions are apt to be very different from population groups in the capitals, there’s bound to be a number of minority groups (some might actually be the majority), and there’s also likely to be population groups in one country whose brethren (I use this term very loosely) are the majority group in another country. For one example, consider the Chakma/Marma population in Bangladesh (who are loosely related to Burmans in Burma) or the Rohingya population in Burma (who are loosely related to Bengalis in Bangladesh).

One state making headlines (depending on the paper you read) is China. And its borders are bloody. Yet. But they seem to be getting hotter. And I’m not even talking about the South China Sea. China grabbed (Indian) headlines this past weekend with a 10-kilometer incursion into the disputed territory of Ladakh in India. While a Times of India article noted that there have been 600 border violations (across all three sectors: Ladakh, Uttarakhand/Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh) India’s Ministry of Defense is concerned about the “brazen military assertiveness” of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. An official noted that the PLA is going increasingly deeper into Ladakh, in particular, with a potential aim to stake “claims” in the disputed area (planting the flag). In this latest incident, the PLA erected a tent. And haven’t moved. Another Times article notes that the act of erecting a permanent structure (a tent) violates a “Sino-Indian” agreement on managing the disputed border.

In other words, its an escalation. Typically, both sides would retreat to their respective lines after a face-off and flag-waving. While the Indian border guards did so, the PLA pitched a tent and spent the night. The Indian border guards pitched a tent as well, a tit-for-tat escalation (guess the agreement’s void now). Senior military-leader meetings are being held but they have been inconclusive in resolving the dispute. India’s is keeping the option of “rushing troops” to Ladakh, if needed. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs points out that it did nothing wrong and is merely patrolling the line of actual control (LAC, which nominally divides China and India).

In the BBC’s headlines, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that Japan would respond, with force, “if any attempt is made to land on disputed islands” in the East China Sea. As the article points out, the issue over the Senkaku/Diaoyu (Japanese and Mandarin names respectively) islands was reignited last year when the Japanese state purchased three of the islands from a private owner (“nationalizing” them).

Are these two groups of countries, India-China, Japan-China, heading for a violent conflict? Hard to tell. Violent inter-state conflict is becoming harder to discern these days. Gone are the days when an ambassador was summoned and war declared by a representative body or person of the body politic. I doubt anyone could predict such a cataclysmic event like the beginning of a war. What we can say, however, is that tensions are getting hotter (how hot would be the subject of a research paper, not a blog post). New lines are being crossed: China pitching a tent, Prime Minister Abe mentioning force. But these are a long way from someone pulling a trigger (or pushing a button). But as tensions raise, we have to wonder – how many other levers are there to pull to escalate a situation? And which lever, pulled with the intention to demonstrate resolve, accidentally ignites a conflict?

A lot of this is outside the scope of (political) Geography, of course. For me, the real interest is how these tensions are manifesting in the physical and human landscapes. Why Ladakh? Why the Senkakus? These are discussion points worth their own posts, but to me, Ladakh because there are so few people (civilians) there. Of the four areas listed (Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh) Ladakh has the lowest population density (less than 10 people per square mile). If violence were to erupt, due to a miscalculation by the Chinese or the Indians, it would be largely isolated in a far-flung region dominated by mountains and glaciers. The Senkakus are more than just a set of rocks in the Pacific. They have potential economic value, thanks to local fisheries and underwater petroleum reserves. Beyond this they are symbolic, they are tied up in the turbulent history of East Asia, especially between China and Japan. Though I haven’t read it yet, Council on Foreign Relations published an article this month for “contingency planning” purposes.

Vijaynagar, Arunachal Pradesh: An Island of State Power

I stumbled across this article a while ago and found it greatly informative and a wondeful thought piece. From a magazine run by the Indian newspaper The Hindu, it discusses a far-flung area of the Indian Union, Vijaynagar in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. Located in a valley in India’s northeast, Vijaynagar boasts an air strip, an Assam Rifles (Indian paramilitary group) encampment, and schools. Nestled in the Kachin Hills, which form part of the border between India, Bangladesh and Burma, Vijaynagar is actually further east than Yangon and Naypyidaw in Burma. Given this bit of information, its unsurprising too learn that the general area in which Vijaynagar rests is surrounded on the south, east, and north by Burma (see map below). If you’re wondering, Vijaynagar is over 1,200 miles (almost 2,000 km.) from New Delhi and that’s the Euclidean distance, I can’t even fathom how far it actually is.

What makes Vijaynagar interesting is its status as an “island” of state control in one of the most remotest areas of India. As the article mentions the settlement is completely dependent on its air link for transportation and supply to the rest of India, through the airport at Mohanbari in “upper” Assam (up river). The nearest town, Miao, is 157 km. of “thick jungles” and six days away. Residents unable to catch one of the flights to the town employ “Chakma refugees”, probably a reference to the Chakma tribe in Bangladesh, to carry loads during the trek from Miao. The Chakma, incidentally, are a non-Muslim tribe from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. At one point they were engaged in an domestic insurgency until the early to mid-1990s. With continuing Bengalization in the Hill Tracts, the government sponsors settlers from the plains to the hills, the Chakma, and other indigenous tribes, are voicing concern over the loss of their livelihoods, way of life, and discrimination by Bengalis.

Vijaynagar itself appears to be the administrative center of 13 other “recognized” villages and 1 “unrecognized” villages. Recognition is probably imparted by the Indian government and probably entails benefits, right to governance and so on. I’m guessing one of the “unrecognized” villages is still considered part of one of the recognized ones. Looking at the map and the local topography, and considering the area’s reliance on air supply, we can understand the subtitle “prisoners of geography.” The area is home to another tribe, the Lisu, that initially settled the area, which they called “Daodi”. The name Vijaynagar, City of Vijay, was named by a Major General of the Assam Rifles after the birth of his son, Vijay, in the area. That general was sent to survey the area.

This island of the Indian state border Kachin state in Burma. Home to the Kachin Independence Army, which the article says, which ran a parallel government to the one in Nyapyidaw and offered military training to militants from northeastern India. I’m guessing since the establishment of Vijaynagar and the imposition of state authority through the Assam Rifles cross-border traffic has declined somewhat. But, the terrain is rough and there’s plenty of jungle passes.

As you can imagine, Vijaynagar is enslaved by the local climate, given its reliance on air transport. The article relates the effect of cancelled sorties carrying people and necessities because of inclement weather. The people are doubly encumbered by the fact that the Public Distribution System doesn’t operate there, making Vijaynagaris subject to market prices and transport prices to get their goods. Thus, as of 2009, Changlang district was seeking to revive plans for the maintenance of a forest road linking Vijaynagar and Miao. Evidently, this would reduce travel time from six days to six hours because of the ability of light vehicles to ply the route. A couple of immediate effects would be lowering the cost of goods as transport costs decrease. Of course, Chakma refugees, who act as porters, would lose a valuable source of income to the road. While its possible the Chakma refugees could operate a taxi or trucking service, I’m sure that requires more start-up capital than refugees typically have. That means that this would be a business opportunity for a middle-classer, probably to employ Chakma refugees as drivers. Moreover, other advocates pointed out that a forest road would also permit forest guards (it is a national forest) to better patrol the jungles from poachers and illegal loggers.

Creating a forest road would fundamentally alter the presence of the Indian state in the area. Currently, the “state” can be envisioned as existing in Miao and Vijaynagar separately. While there is “some” state presence in between the two, its practically nil. If I need the United States to say, save my house from burning down (as states are supposed to do), and the best they could is arrive in three days, then no, there is no state. However, if there’s a road to my house I would certainly feel the state’s presence. Don’t read too much into this, I’m not necessarily an advocate for the state, its generally corrupt. But providing economic, social, and educational opportunities to those who might not otherwise have them, that’s a worthwhile state. By the same token, some states are content to sit back and let the private sector to develop nascent infrastructure, logging companies will certainly build tracks.

Geography and India’s Language Debate

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the myriad ways that people come up with to differentiate one from another. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these manufactured (by key “elites”) generalized (because they are) identities are *the* cause of conflict, individuals’ willingness to buy into them certainly don’t help. And as fake and static as these communal (I mean this in the most expansive way possible) identities are, they’re still able to mobilize thousands if not millions of people. Partially the reason these divisions, based on religion, ethnicity, race, class, language and so on, still exist is because they’re simple ways to ensure finite state resources go to designated groups. The designated group is dependent on who the distributor is, and that who is typically the government. Obviously the government itself is made up of individuals from the various population groups and are tied, to varying degrees, to these constituents. The United States and parts of the “West” do a fairly good job of casting the “designated” group net fairly wide. But in the case of the U.S., that government did tolerate, legally, the institution of chattel slavery for almost a decade (and that’s just after independence). Slavery and legalized discrimination (Jim Crow laws) was used by representatives of the “designated” core population group of the United States to maintain power. While these institutions are completely overt, I wonder if the indirect effects of these practices, especially from the 1960s amounts to a de facto segregation (rather than de jure). While this is certainly a (Z) Geography topic, I won’t explore it here.

India, as most know, was (partially) partitioned in 1947 by the departing British imperialists along religious lines. As my posts on Bangladesh illustrate (and source), this a largely a myth other factors (such as economics and partisan politics) also played principle roles. What is less well known (at least in the “West”) is the language divide, principally between Hindi (much of northern India) and southern Indian languages. As you may have guessed finding an “accurate” map of Indian languages is difficult so I offer you two below. The first is based on state boundaries suggesting nice, clean divisions between “Hindi India” and the rest of India. The second map isn’t about Hindi per se but its inclusion under the Indo-Aryan family of languages (here differentiated between Iranian languages and Indic languages). South Indian languages, like Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil, are Dravidian. This map drives home the north-south divide. The first map is meant to illustrate that Hindi is not spoken all over the north.

Language in India, by state (via

Language Families in South Asia (via Johns Hopkins Uni.)

The Constitution of India (Eighth Schedule) lists 22 languages protected by the government ranging from Hindi (with over 200 million speakers) to Bodo (1.4 million), and includes Sanskrit. While Hindi is the “official language” of India, the Government of India is under obligation “for the development of these languages, such that ‘they grow rapidly in richness and become effective means of communicating modern knowledge'” (according to wikipedia). The final wrench is English, the language of the British, which also has been the de facto language of government.

With all of this as a bit of background, the “tug of war over language” in the country made it back to the front pages recently, thanks to a new civil service exam (see the Times of India article). The test requires applicants for the Indian Administrative Service (the IAS, a prestigious government position) and other agencies to take the test in either Hindi or English. This new test replaces the previous test, which allowed applicants to take the test in any of the languages scheduled in the Constitution (the aforementioned Eighth Schedule of 22 languages). However, an applicant *can* take the test in a local language if there are 25 other applicants (presumably for the same position) also taking the test in that language.

This is a tricky issue. On the one hand, there is the necessity for a common, unified language for administration and government. On the other hand, I understand the predicament faced by non-Hindi speakers. They’re educational backgrounds are just as sound in Telugu, Bengali, or Bodo as they would be if they spoke Hindi – in that sense personal merit, not language, should be the deciding factor. Further, why is Hindi *the* official language in the first place? In a country like India, with several population groups and a thousand different ways to differentiate them, its more important to identify the things that bind them together, rather than point out the ways in which they are different. Like Bangladesh, India still has some ways to go before solving its own “state identity crisis”. What makes modern India? Speaking Hindi and English? Or adhering to and providing steadfast support the Constitution?

Sometimes I think that Americans are forgetting this lesson.