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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2016

Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London


This article examines centre–periphery relations in post-colonial India and Pakistan, providing a specific comparative history of autonomy movements in Nagaland (1947–63) and Baluchistan (1973–7). It highlights the key role played by the central government – particularly by Jawaharlal Nehru and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – in quelling both insurgencies and in taking further steps to integrate these regions. It argues that a shared colonial history of political autonomy shaped local actors’ resistance to integration into the independent nation-states of India and Pakistan. This article also reveals that Indian and Pakistani officials used their shared colonial past in very different ways to mould their borderlands policies. India's central government under Nehru agreed to a modified Naga State within the Indian Union that allowed the Nagas a large degree of autonomy, continuing a colonial method of semi-integration. In contrast, Bhutto's government actively sought to abandon long-standing Baluch political and social structures to reaffirm the sovereignty of the Pakistani state. The article explains this divergence in terms of the different governing exigencies facing each country at the time of the insurgencies. It ultimately calls for an expansion in local histories and subnational comparisons to extend understanding of post-1947 South Asia, and the decolonizing world more broadly.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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The author wishes to thank the editors and anonymous reviewers of this journal, as well as Sarah Ansari, Daniel Haines, and Sunil Purushotham for their comments. The Leverhulme Trust generously supported research for this article.


1 Ayesha Jalal, Democracy and authoritarianism in South Asia: a comparative and historical perspective (Cambridge, 1995). For particular consideration of broader structural differences between India and Pakistan, see Katharine Adeney, Federalism and ethnic conflict regulation in India and Pakistan (Basingstoke, 2007); Jai Prakash Sharma, Federal systems of India and Pakistan: a comparative perspective (Jaipur, 1987).

2 Jalal, Democracy and authoritarianism, p. 199.

3 This work differentiates between the capitalized ‘States’ that comprise the Indian Union and are part of its federal system and the de-capitalized ‘state’ of broader political discourse.

4 Jalal, Democracy and authoritarianism, p. 200.

5 Ibid., p. 167.

6 Using geography as border logic can be equally problematic, particularly as states expand. Peter Sahlins has demonstrated this in the case of French borders. Sahlins, Peter, ‘Natural frontiers revisited: France's boundaries since the seventeenth century’, American Historical Review, 95 (1990), pp. 1423–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 See Alastair Lamb, Asian frontiers: studies in a continuing problem (London, 1968), pp. 54–75; Marcus Franke, War and nationalism in South Asia: the Indian state and the Nagas (London, 2009), ch. 1.

8 Benjamin D. Hopkins and Magnus Marsden, Fragments of the Afghan frontier (London, 2011), pp. 56–7; Robb, Peter, ‘The colonial state and constructions of Indian identity: an example on the northeast frontier in the 1880s’, Modern Asian Studies, 31 (1997), pp. 245–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at p. 258.

9 See Elisabeth Leake, The defiant border: the Afghan–Pakistan borderlands in the era of decolonization, 1936–1965 (New York, forthcoming, 2016).

10 Jawaharlal Nehru to Bisnuram Medhi, 2 Feb. 1951, in S. Gopal, ed., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 2nd ser., xv, part 2 (New Delhi, 1993), p. 184.

11 For a range of works on Nagaland, see Franke, War and nationalism in South Asia; Udayon Misra, India's north-east: identity movements, state, and civil society (New Delhi, 2014), section B; Chandrika Singh, Political evolution of Nagaland (New Delhi, 1981); R. Vashum, Indo-Naga conflict: problem and resolution (New Delhi, 2001).

12 Franke, War and nationalism in South Asia, ch. 3.

13 Rear-Admiral Viscount Mountbatten of Burma to the earl of Listowel, 24 Apr. 1947, in Nicholas Mansergh and Penderel Moon, eds., The transfer of power, 1942–1947: constitutional relations between Britain and India, xi (London, 1981), no. 210.

14 V. K. Anand, Conflict in Nagaland: a study of insurgency and counter-insurgency (Delhi, 1980), pp. 64–5.

15 In one scathing attack on local Bengalis, Medhi wrote, ‘The fact is that after the British occupation the natives of the soil were not inclined to co-operate with the British imperialists and accept any job under them to help in the administration. Taking advantage of this attitude of mind of the local people, a large number of Bengalis who came with the imperialists occupied all offices of trust and responsibility. The Bengali “Amolahs”, without having a permanent interest in the soil but forming the only link between the foreign Government and the governed, naturally felt tempted to exploit the situation to their best advantage.’ Bisnuram Medhi to Balvantray Mehta, general secretary, All India Congress Committee, 29 Oct. 1954, Chief Minister's (CM) Secretariat, CMS 257/B/54, Assam State Archives, Guwahati (ASA).

16 B. R. Medhi to Jawaharlal Nehru, 24 Sept. 1954, file 1, Bisnuram Medhi papers, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi (NMML).

17 K. N. Dutt, ‘Draft memorandum on the State of Assam for submission to the States Reorganisation Commission’, 1954, CM Secretariat, CMS 257/B/54, ASA.

18 Franke, War and nationalism in South Asia, p. 91.

19 Jawaharlal Nehru to Bisnuram Medhi, 16 May 1957, Mushirul Hasan, ed., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 2nd ser., xxxviii (New Delhi, 2006), p. 255.

20 Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi: the history of the world's largest democracy (London, 2007), ch. 9.

21 Paul R. Brass, Language, religion and politics in north India (Cambridge, 1974), p. 17.

22 Jawaharlal Nehru to Jairamdas Doulatram, 3 Apr. 1955, S. Gopal, ed., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 2nd ser., xxviii (New Delhi, 2001), p. 487.

23 See Nag, Sajal, ‘Nehru and the Nagas: minority nationalism and the post-colonial state’, Economic and Political Weekly, 44 (2009), pp. 4855Google Scholar, at p. 50.

24 Jawaharlal Nehru to Bisnuram Medhi, 19 Mar. 1954, S. Gopal, ed., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 2nd ser., xxv (New Delhi, 1999), p. 211.

25 B. R. Medhi to Jawaharlal Nehru, 26 May 1956, file 1, Bisnuram Medhi papers, NMML.

26 Ibid.

27 Jawaharlal Nehru to Bisnuram Medhi, 16 May 1957, Hasan, ed., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, xxxviii, p. 256.

28 S. M. Shrinagesh to Jawaharlal Nehru, 12 Apr. 1960, Madhavan K. Palat, ed., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 2nd ser., lix (New Delhi, 2014), pp. 455–6.

29 ‘India expected to give Nagas own state’, Times, 1 Aug. 1960, p. 5.

30 Jawaharlal Nehru to S. M. Shrinagesh, 2 Apr. 1960, Hasan, ed., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, xxxviii, p. 209.

31 ‘Increased autonomy for hill people: reforms promised by Mr. Nehru’, Times of India, 12 Aug. 1960, p. 1.

32 While the Naga struggle for independence has been a subject of acute interest among Indian scholars, the development of Baluchistan within Pakistan has received far less attention. This is due in part to scholars’ focus on the larger, more influential provinces of Punjab and East Bengal or those that were more immediately impacted by partition, such as Sindh, as well as to a dearth of archival sources.

33 Selig S. Harrison, In Afghanistan's shadow: Baluch nationalism and Soviet temptations (New York, NY, 1981), pp. 26–7.

34 Titus, Paul and Swidler, Nina, ‘Knights, not pawns: ethno-nationalism and regional dynamics in post-colonial Balochistan’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 32 (2002), pp. 4769CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at pp. 50–1.

35 K. L. S. Pandit, Indian consul, Kandahar, political report for 1954, 4 Feb. 1955, External Affairs (EA) 3/14/R&I/55-II, National Archives of India, New Delhi (NAI).

36 Harrison, In Afghanistan's shadow, pp. 162–3.

37 Anwar H. Syed, ‘The idea of a Pakistani nationhood’, Polity, 12 (1980), pp. 575–97, at pp. 591–2.

38 ‘Bhutto rejects pleas to lift emergency, points to plots at home, abroad’, Dawn, 4 Mar. 1973, p. 1.

39 ‘Bhutto urges constituent assembly members to keep tryst with destiny’, Dawn, 23 Feb. 1973, p. 1.

40 While scholars have reported various theories on the provenance and likely destination of the Iraqi guns, few indicate much belief in the idea that they were meant for a Baluch insurgency. See Harrison, In Afghanistan's shadow, p. 35.

41 Titus and Swidler, ‘Knights, not pawns’, p. 60.

42 Ibid., p. 62.

43 See Harrison, In Afghanistan's shadow, particularly ch. 6.

44 Mohammad Daoud to Kurt Waldheim, 27 Nov. 1974, S-0442–0331–1, United Nations Archives and Records Management Section, New York City (UN ARMS).

45 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Kurt Waldheim, 1 Oct. 1974, S-0442–0331–1, UN ARMS.

46 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Kurt Waldheim, 20 Jan. 1975, S-0442–0331–1, UN ARMS.

47 Indian embassy, Kabul, ‘Note on Pakhtoon activities for the month of March 1975’, 4 June 1975, EA HI/1012/1/75, NAI.

48 S. K. Pradhan, ‘Political report for November, 1974’, 3 Dec. 1974, EA HI/1012/3/74, NAI; idem, ‘Political report for June, 1975’, 1 July 1975, EA HI/1012/3/75, NAI.

49 S. K. Pradhan, ‘Political report for May, 1975’, 3 June 1975, EA HI/1012/3/75, NAI.

50 Mohammad Daoud to Kurt Waldheim, 30 Sept. 1975, S-0360–0014–10, UN ARMS.

51 ‘Wali alleges plot to push Baluchistan, NWFP out of Pakistan’, Dawn, 23 May 1973, p. 1.

52 See, for example, S. K. Pradhan, ‘Political report for June, 1974’, 2 July 1974, EA HI/1012/3/74, NAI.

53 ‘Action against NAP not arbitrary – Pirzada’, Dawn, 15 Feb. 1975, p. 1.

54 ‘Note from J. S. on Naga Hills’, undated 1956, CM Secretariat, CMS 136/56, ASA; Lila Gogoi to home minister, 27 June 1956, CM Secretariat, CMS 130/56, ASA.

55 ‘Bhutto wants political solution in Baluchistan’, Dawn, 17 Dec. 1974, p. 8.

56 Jawaharlal Nehru to Bisnuram Medhi, 13 May 1956, H. Y. Prasad et al., eds., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 2nd ser., xxxiii (New Delhi, 2004), p. 172.

57 M. C. Pant, ‘Activities of A. Z. Phizo’, 23 Dec. 1972, HA NII/102/63/72, NAI.

58 Ministry of Defence D(GS.I) draft white paper, ‘Foreign involvement in insurgency in north eastern India’, 1 June 1972, HA NII/102/33/72, NAI.

59 Historical Division, Ministry of External Affairs, ‘The question of Naga traditional rights – a review of discussions with the governments of Nagaland and Burma’, 11 Oct. 1976, EA HI/102/36/76, NAI.

60 Ibid.

61 Sant Singh to Bisnuram Medhi, 30 June 1956, CM Secretariat, CMS 130/56, ASA.

62 See Srirupa Roy, Beyond belief: India and the politics of postcolonial nationalism (Durham, NC, 2007).

63 Reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, 29 Apr. 1958, Aditya Mukherjee and Mridula Mukherjee, eds., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 2nd ser., xlii (New Delhi, 2010), p. 412.

64 Shahid Javed Burki, Pakistan under Bhutto, 1971–1977 (London, 1980), pp. 146–51.

65 Jawaharlal Nehru to Mahavir Tyagi, 2 Dec. 1952, in Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, ed. S. Gopal, 2nd ser., xx (New Delhi, 1997), p. 178.

66 Guyot-Réchard, Bérénice, ‘Nation-building or state-making? India's north-east frontier and the ambiguities of Nehruvian developmentalism, 1950–1959’, Contemporary South Asia, 21 (2013), pp. 2237CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

67 Jawaharlal Nehru to U Nu, 25 Oct. 1952, Mukherjee and Mukherjee, eds., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, xx, p. 154.

68 Jawaharlal Nehru to Mahavir Tyagi, 2 Dec. 1952, in ibid., p. 178.

69 ‘White paper’, Dawn, 20 Oct. 1974, pp. 7, 14–16.

70 ‘Army's service in Baluchistan helpful, people tell Bhutto’, Dawn, 29 July 1974, p. 1.

71 ‘Sardari system abolished’, Dawn, 9 Apr. 1976, p. 1. How Bhutto pursued the abolition of sardari or whether he actually succeeded in doing so remains unclear due to a lack of archival sources. Nevertheless, the continued importance of sardars like Marri, Mengal, and Bizenjo through the 1980s and into the twenty-first century indicates that social structures likely did not change as drastically as Bhutto intended. See Ali, Imtiaz, ‘The Balochistan problem’, Pakistan Horizon, 58 (2005), pp. 4162Google Scholar.

72 V. K. Anand, Nagaland in transition (New Delhi, 1967).

73 Akbar S. Ahmed, Social and economic change in the tribal areas, 1972–1976 (Karachi, 1977), p. 3.

74 The integration of French colonial India in the late 1950s also arguably fitted into this trend, and, as with Nagaland, Nehru allowed the local governments in the former French colonies to retain certain political powers that had devolved to the union government in the British Indian States. See Yechury, Akhila, ‘Imagining India, decolonizing L'Inde française, c. 1947–1954’, Historical Journal, 58 (2015), pp. 1141–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

75 Talks with Naga leaders, 15 Sept. 1956, H. Y. Sharada Prasad et al., eds., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, 2nd ser., xxxv (New Delhi, 2005), p. 149.

76 See Hazary, Subas Chandra, ‘Politics of regionalism: implications for political development in India’, Indian Journal of Political Science, 52 (1991), pp. 208–24Google Scholar.

77 Jawaharlal Nehru to Bisnuram Medhi, 9 Mar. 1955, Gopal, ed., Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru, xxviii, p. 480.

78 See, for example, S. S. Pradhan, consul, Indian Consulate, Jalalabad, ‘Political report for the month of March 1975’, 5 Apr. 1975, EA HI/1012/2/75, NAI.

79 B. K. Nehru to Dinesh Singh, minister of external affairs, 12 Apr. 1970, file 21, subject files, B. K. Nehru papers, NMML.

80 Quoted in Harrison, In Afghanistan's shadow, p. 55.

81 See Khan, Adeel, ‘Renewed ethnonationalist insurgency in Balochistan, Pakistan: the militarized state and continuing economic deprivation’, Asian Survey, 49 (2009), pp. 1071–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar.