Book Review: ‘Northeast India’ by Samrat Choudhury

Diving into the Complex History of Northeast India


Book Title: Northeast India: A Political History
Author: Samrat Choudhury
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 432
ISBN: 978-9356991248
Date Published: July 26, 2023
Price: INR 492

Northeast India by Samrat Choudhury Book Cover

Book Review

Samrat Choudhury’s compelling work delves into the intriguing history of Northeast India, a region born in 1947 as the British Raj dissolved and India and Pakistan emerged. Before colonial rule, the hills of this region were inhabited by diverse tribes who practiced ancient traditions, including headhunting. Choudhury skillfully presents this history through a blend of reportage, documentation, explanation, analysis, and anecdotal accounts.

The book follows the journey of these remote hill tribes and other groups inhabiting the vast Brahmaputra River valley as they became integral parts of the Indian nation. Choudhury explores the creation of the ‘Northeast’ while shedding light on two other competing ideas of India: ‘Bharat,’ the Hindu nationalist vision, and ‘Hindustan,’ the Persian-origin name used as far west as Turkey. This historical narrative spans from imperialism and Christianity to the British fascination with tea, revealing how each state in the modern Northeast reluctantly joined India.

Praised as a persuasive, captivating, and unputdownable work of history, Choudhury’s book offers profound clarity into the diverse and complex history of India’s Northeast. The text masterfully covers various aspects of the region, its territories, and its people. Choudhury’s sweeping political history offers a comprehensive understanding of India’s Northeast. It is renowned for its many languages and ethnic groups, making it an invaluable resource for those seeking insights into the region.

Choudhury avoids simplifying the history of the Northeast, acknowledging its intricacies. He takes a meticulous approach to detail each state’s history, explaining their relationships with one another, their connection to the mainland, and their involvement in significant historical events. This method is particularly enlightening as it uncovers the historical disputes and conflicts between the Northeastern states, offering a well-rounded understanding of the region.

The author highlights that the British colonial era profoundly impacted the Northeast, influencing its formation. Choudhury explores how the region grapples with feelings of both importance due to its frontier status and neglect. The book effectively communicates the differences among the states, which are instrumental in comprehending the complexities beyond administrative labels.

Choudhury’s narrative demonstrates how the British colonial legacy has continued in the Indian state, resulting in numerous insurgencies, loss of life, and the imposition of laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The author skillfully correlates the Northeast’s issues of identity and “illegal” immigration to a lack of understanding of the region’s history, revealing how these issues are often exploited for political gain.

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Choudhury occasionally incorporates myths and legends to address the dearth of written accounts about the pre-colonial history of the region. This approach is laudable as it acknowledges the significance of orality in Northeastern culture, enhancing the region’s understanding.

The book “Northeast India: A Political History” occasionally becomes repetitive when narrating how each state merged with the Indian state, as a result of the British colonial era. Nevertheless, it offers essential insights by highlighting instances of resistance against British colonialism and the region’s struggle to maintain identity and autonomy.

Overall, Samrat Choudhury’s comprehensive work deeply explains Northeast India’s intricate history. It effectively contextualizes the region’s birth within the broader history of India’s evolution as a modern nation-state, linking events like the Quit India Movement and the Partition of India to developments in the Northeast. By examining the region’s complex history state by state, Choudhury helps to dispel misconceptions and provides a nuanced perspective on the Northeast’s challenges and unique identity.

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