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Ethnic Conflicts Part I: Secessionist Conflict. Gov 1255: Politics of India Prof Prerna Singh. Main Question. Why has ethnic conflict broken out in some parts of India at certain points in time and not others?. Ethnic Conflict. Ethnic conflict = violent ethnic conflict What is ethnicity?

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Ethnic conflicts part i secessionist conflict

Ethnic ConflictsPart I: Secessionist Conflict

Gov 1255: Politics of India

Prof Prerna Singh

Main question
Main Question

Why has ethnic conflict broken out in some parts of India at certain points in time and not others?

Ethnic conflict
Ethnic Conflict

Ethnic conflict = violent ethnic conflict

What is ethnicity?

Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict:

“Ethnic groups are all groups based on ascriptive identities”

That is, race, language, religion, tribe, caste

But NOT class, gender and sexual preferences.

Ethnic conflicts part i secessionist conflict

Types of Ethnic Conflict

  • Ethnic groups versus New Delhi

    Movements for greater self-determination

  • Autonomy

  • Separation

  • Ethnic groups versus each other

    Hindu-Muslim violence

In this lecture
In this lecture…

Separatist Movements



Explanations for ethnic conflict
Explanations for Ethnic Conflict

  • The Primordialist Approach

  • The Structural Approach

  • The Instrumentalist Approach

  • The Constructivist Approach

    • Role of the State

Background to kashmir conflict
Background to Kashmir Conflict

  • Princely state

    • sharing boundary with both India and Pakistan

    • Muslim majority but significant Hindu and Buddhist minorities

    • ruled by (an autocratic) Hindu ruler, Hari Singh

  • Popular Movement led by Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference against Hari Singh

  • Hari Singh’s ambitions for Kashmiri independence

  • Invasion of Pakistan-sponsored Pathan tribesmen

  • Signing of Instrument of Accession with India

  • Indian army pushes back Pathan tribesmen at LoC

Role of the state
Role of the State

Repeated undermining of electoral institutions

Failure to allow for development of an honest opposition to Sheikh Abdullah & the National Conference

Blatant central intervention in Kashmiri politics

Timeline of kashmir conflict
Timeline of Kashmir Conflict

1950s-1970s: Deinstitutionalization BUT no mass political mobilization = Peace

1977: First free & fair elections

1983: Farooq Abdullah comes to power

1983: Critical turning point: Indira Gandhi orders unconstitutional dismissal of Farooq

1987: “A Horrible Mistake” - Farooq-Rajiv Gandhi pact + Rigged elections

1989: The Insurgency Begins

Kashmir ablaze again
Kashmir: Ablaze Again

On 11 June, mass civilian protests erupted in Srinagar when a 17-year-old boy died after being hit on the head by a police tear gas canister in the congested old part of the city.

Killings had happened before, but why the outcry this time? Actually, on 11 June there was not one death, but two.After the boy died, police sought to put the blame on those who had tried to rush him to hospital to save his life. The police killed the boy first - and then killed the truth.

Kashmir ablaze again1
Kashmir: Ablaze Again

Worst riots in many years

Triggered by police killings of civilians (esp young and old)

Cycle of violence: Reprisals to riots further triggers protests…

Punjab conflict 1980 1989
Punjab Conflict (1980-1989)


  • One of India’s most wealthy states

  • Well integrated into Indian union

  • Close ties between Hinduism & Sikhism

  • Active Sikh involvement in Indian polity

Punjab conflict1
Punjab Conflict

Why did this peaceful, symbiotic relationship break down, all of a sudden, in the 1980s?

Why is it that communal rhetoric and demands were contained in the earlier periods and spiralled into violence in the 1980s?

Why did Sikh youth, overwhelmingly quiescent in the ethnically charged atmosphere of the 1960s, take up arms against the Indian state in the 1980s?

Causes of punjab conflict paul brass s argument
Causes of Punjab ConflictPaul Brass’s argument

Contrasting patterns of centre-state relations

Several critical differences in the character, functioning and leadership of the Congress government in New Delhi in the 1960s vs. 1980s.

Nehru vs. Indira Gandhi

Upto the 1980s ethnic peace
Upto the 1980s: Ethnic Peace

Nehru’s unwritten but consistent rules

  • no demand for political recognition of a religious group would be considered,

  • that explicitly secessionist movements would not be tolerated and would be suppressed by force whenever necessary,

  • that no capricious concessions would be made to the political demands of any linguistic, regional or other culturally defined group, and

  • that no political concessions to cultural groups in conflict would be made unless they had demonstrable support from both sides in the conflict (Brass 1988:170).

Punjab in the 1950s 60s time of linguistic reorganization of states
Punjab in the 1950s-60s: Time of Linguistic Reorganization of States

Leadership of AkaliDal

Master Tara Singh

Demand for Sikh state

Nehru 

SantFateh Singh

Demand for Punjabi-speaking state

Nehru 

Critical aspects of new delhi s policies
Critical aspects of New Delhi’s policies

  • Firmly refused demands made on the basis of religious communal identity by leaders whom it considered had secessionist inclinations.

  • Did not intervene directly in the politics of Punjab. The state remained an autonomous arena.

1980s ethnic violence
1980s: Ethnic Violence

Indira Gandhi’s abandonment of Nehru’s rules

More instrumental, real politik-driven relationship with the provinces

Intervened directly & blatantly in state politics (like in Kashmir)

Supported militant over moderate Sikh leaders

Indira gandhi s interventions in punjab
Indira Gandhi’s interventions in Punjab

Sought to divide AkaliDal

Ignored legitimately presented demands of Longowal, for example, Anandpur Sahib Resolution

Supported militant preacher, Bhindranwale

Punjab conflict2
Punjab Conflict

Competition with extremist Bhindranwale forced Akalis to make more militant demands

Rise of Bhindranwale: The beast Mrs Gandhi could no longer control


Complex interplay of factors

Emphasized (often neglected) role of state institutions

For the most part, India has managed its ethnic diversity and conflicts well

Compare to Yugoslavia, Soviet Union, Africa

Kashmir conflict1
Kashmir Conflict

Clash of three nationalisms

Secular nationalism – India

Rejection of two-nation theory

India: Homeland for Hindus & Muslims

Challenge from Hindu nationalism

Kashmir conflict2
Kashmir Conflict

Clash of three nationalisms

Ethnic nationalism – Kashmiri

Syncretic, pan-religious idea of Kashmiriyat

More militantly Islamic Kashmir nationalism


Sumit ganguly s argument
SumitGanguly’s Argument

 political consciousness among Kashmiris


Actions of the central and state governments that removed the possibilities of institutional protest.

Kashmir conflict3
Kashmir Conflict

Clash of three nationalisms

Religious nationalism - Pakistan

Secular nationalism - India

Ethnic nationalism – Kashmiri

Kashmir conflict4
Kashmir Conflict

Clash of three nationalisms

Religious nationalism – Pakistan

-Two-nation theory

Pakistan: Homeland for sub-continent’s Muslims

Challenge posed by

Muslim-majority Kashmir in India