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This talk invites its listeners to the ‘tribal’ highlands of Northeast India to observe how voters flock to polling booths in large numbers. Here, voter turnouts readily pitch above 80% to 90%, especially for state-elections. These statistics are not just significantly higher than the national average that hovers between 60 and 65% but they cluster several Northeastern states at the very top of India’s chart of state-wise voter turnouts. This apparent electoral effervescence co-exists with the authoritative presence of rebel groups which formally expressed the refusal of the Indian state and democracy, and resort(ed) to guerrilla warfare. They also co-exist with long histories of counter-insurgency and state-violence, and with structural strains – both military and legal – on democratic space and freedom in this region. What, then, accounts for these consistently high voter turnouts in highland Northeast India? The answer, I suggest, must be sought in the ways democracy and elections become variously appropriated, reinterpreted and reworked along the lines of pre-existing, ‘traditional’ polities and politics that strongly revolve around chiefs, councilors, clans, commoners, and the customs that bind them. Focusing especially on the Naga, I propose that it is an animated (and ever contested) remapping of ostensibly ‘past’ political practices and principles onto the new democratic domain that significantly shapes local voting behaviour and patterns.

About the speaker

Jelle J P Wouters is a Social Anthropologist and Senior Lecturer at Royal Thimphu College. He is the author of In the Shadows of Naga Insurgency (OUP, 2018)

This event is a part of the Fugitive Words: India's Political Ideas in its Vernaculars project led by Dr Anastasia Piliavsky.

At this event

Anastasia Piliavsky

Reader in Social Anthropology and Politics