In post/de-colonial theorist Prof. Priyamvada Gopal’s book, ‘The Insurgent Empire’, which talks about a continuous history of resistance to the British Empire from its subjects at different points of the imperial trajectory, one element can be made certain that London as the empire’s heart,was a shared space of the slow burning counter revolution.
Sanjeev Sanyal, the polymath has repeatedly made known in his public outreach as a historian that India’s violent resistance against the British was mobilised from London (with particular emphasis on the ‘India House’, a nerve centre for Indian students), and other parts of the globe.
Lala Lajpat Rai (spent 1914-19 in the United States of America), Rashbehari Bose (in Japan for three decades), VD Savarkar (studied in London), Subhash Chandra Bose (in Germany, Japan and Malaya) all made the diaspora a site for reimagining and activating a free India.
BR Ambedkar formulated his alternative caste politics when he was exposed to the lived experiences of radical African American Theorists such as W.E.B. De Bois on ‘Black Consciousness’ during and post his education at Columbia University and the London School of Economics.
Azad Hind Fauj was started by Indian soldiers under the leadership of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in SE Asia, particularly in British Malaya was financed by Tamil Chettiar Merchants active as financiers in the region.
The key argument in this article is the role of the diaspora in keeping the vision of a certain political alternative alive, when the ‘home’ is under occupation. The projects of nation state formation are incomplete in many parts of the globe, some constantly pinching as festering wounds.
The Genealogy of the ‘Post-Colonial’ Nation State
Nation state making was associated with the processes of post-colonial decolonisation in the twentieth century with the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire to the independence of Ireland to the waves of freedom movements from Indonesia and India.
This process of nation state formation continued in the 1970’s, with doubly independent Bangladesh (British India to East Pakistan to Bangladesh) in 1971, to South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in 1980. The collapse of the Soviet Union, after the fall of the Berlin Wall gave birth to a dozen plus countries. The fragmentation of the former Yugoslav republics inspired the epistemic category of ‘Balkanisation’ itself.
The 1990’s gave way to a post-apartheid South Africa, and an independent Timor Leste in 1999, again doubly free as Bangladesh, as Timor was annexed by Indonesia by Suharto in 1975 after the Portuguese left.
Hong Kong was given back to China as a Special Administrative Region under a (now floundering) ‘One Country, Two Systems’ mandate. Macau was returned to China as well, which was the last Portuguese colonial outpost in Asia.
Why some Nationalist Movements Can Become Nations?
In the past decade, Oil rich South Sudan became independent after a genocide from its northern Arab origin neighbours. Territorial aspirations of communities and tribes have been a constant feature of the international system, some make it to country status, some still fight on for recognition such as the quasi national Polisario Movement in mineral rich Western Sahara engaged in conflict with the Moroccan State.
There are separatist movements all over Asia, from West Papua in Indonesia to the Moro’s in Southern Philippines to Baloch nationalists in Pakistan. For every successful ‘Mukti Bahini’ in Bangladesh, there is a failed dream of a Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
Although widely discredited after the brutal assassination of the former Indian Prime Minster in Rajiv Gandhi, the LTTE had an opening to negotiate for autonomy the early 2000’s with the assistance of the Norwegians. The same Norwegians had helped the Acehnese separatists negotiate a successful autonomy with Jakarta post the 2004 Tsunami.
It has been a decade since the LTTE had been defeated, by the military might of the Sri Lankan military with Pakistani Air Force support. The North and the North East of Sri Lanka is still smouldering in the aftermath of the conflict.
The splintered, fragmented diaspora from the suburbs of Paris to Toronto that funded the LTTE insurgency for decades is currently involved in rebuilding efforts with the Singapore/Malaysia Jaffna Tamil community.
Marriages have been effectively leveraged as a social institution for upward mobility in a community impacted by horrendous violence as been written in “Marrying for a Future: Sri Lankan Transnational Tamil Marriages in the Shadow of War” by Prof. Sidharthan Maunaguru. There are attempts to reinvigorate the memories and the nostalgia of an ‘Eelam’ in the digital space, by curating oral histories and photos of an era lost.
Baluchi’s and Kurds are a dispersed ‘quam’ (or nation/community in Urdu) without a political home as they are totally ‘Balkanised’. Kurds are distributed across in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. In Iraq, the Kurds have a degree of autonomy in governance in Kirkuk and in Turkey, Kurds hold senior positions in Ankara.
Baluchi’s are spread across Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf Littoral across the Makran coast. In Oman, Baluchi’s have held senior military and diplomatic positions. Baluchi’s have a strong presence in the security architecture of the Gulf particularly in Bahrain complicating sectarian dynamics in the Shia majority country.
The countries of the Gulf were British protectorates until 1971. Nations like United Arab Emirates are post-colonial states in every respect, although traditionally they are not considered as one.
These Arab sheikdoms were quasi-independent for many years, considered a buffer between Persia and the Ottoman Empire, and aligned with British India, supported politically from Bombay Presidency. The discovery of oil made; political recognition easier to expedite.
The geopolitical alignments matter in the process of nation state formation as well as petro-capitalism. Why made Timor Leste’s or South Sudan’s independence easier than an independent Tamil State?
The answer lies in resources and better integration within the global market grid of commodities. Many countries and communities would be eager to have a pole position to invest in a frontier market. Baluchistan province in Pakistan is mineral rich and Gwadar is a strategic port at the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz. Hence, Pakistan’s drive to maintain illegitimate sovereignty over the freedom loving Baluchi people is hegemonic.
Uphold the Nation
Baluchi’s, Kurds and Jaffna Tamils have something in common; that they uphold the sense of the ‘nation’ perched in diaspora spaces and in the digital realm. The imagination thrives in these networks of hope and care.
The gift of a home is an honour, the nation state is a shelter. In India, we take our home for granted. Revisiting stories from communities who are stateless, such as this post is a welcome reminder to upload the idea of a home, and to fight for it in the era where borders are breached and questioned by our neighbours. We should remember that we won our “drenched in blood” political right to be independent citizens only a mere 74 years back, vis-à-vis colonial rule of 200 years counting from the Battle of Plassey.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.