To Secede or Not to Secede; That is the Question

Aishwarya pens down an editorial on the UNGA

The world as we know it today is constituted by up to 196 different countries, each diverse in its own special way, with a unique national identities of its own. It is, however, extremely idealistic and utopian for one to expect that every citizen of a particular nation is perfectly happy living within that nation, and content with the rule of his or her government. Despite national boundaries being drawn on the basis of cultural similarities that together constitute the “national identity” of the country in question; these nations are often home to multiple ethnic groups. Amongst these various groups within a single nation, one or a few groups constitute a majority, and hence exercise greater power over the other groups, by virtue of possessing greater numbers or power. While racial or religious diversity within the geographic boundaries of a nation in itself is not particularly problematic, it is at a point at which one factions (often the majority) chooses to extend its influence to dominate other factions within the nation, particularly when the government in itself chooses to indulge in the differential treatment of various groups within a nation, that there is trouble,

It is not uncommon, therefore, for factions within a nation to seek the right to self-determination in order to ensure that their views are duly accommodated in the decisions being taken by the government, despite them being minorities. The world had witnessed several such movements within nations by groups protesting against the government or other ethnic groups for alleged atrocities committed against them, including the anti-apartheid protests by the African Americans in the United States and the recent protests in the Middle East. While some of these revolts are controlled by timely action by the governments in granting representation to the disadvantaged groups and ensuring that their views are heard and accommodated, certain other conflicts draw out for long periods due to discontentment amongst the protesting groups with any action taken by the government, or the lack of it.

Long drawn political struggles have often witnessed demands on the behalf of the antagonized faction to want to secede from their parent nation, particularly in situations in which the warring faction is localized to a limited geographical area. While the idea of secession sounds like a natural solution to the problems faced by certain ethnic groups that reject the national identity and no longer wish to live together with other groups in the nations as a collective whole; in reality, there is a lot more to the idea of secession, given the repercussions faced by all stakeholders involved.

Secession from a nation to form a new country requires the need to adopt a new constitution and to sever all previous ties and allegiances that bind the separated geographical area as a part of the parent nation. There is also a need for the new nation to build a strong army, establish trade links and to find a foothold in international politics. Situations in which a less developed region secedes from a more developed parent nation also requires the new nation to rapidly build infrastructure and conduct fast-tracked developmental activities; none of which are easy tasks to accomplish. Secession in certain cases can also be unfair to those people living within the parent nation who have made investments in the separated segment. That is, if the South of India were to want to secede from the North, North Indian residents would stand to lose a lot of investments made by them down south.

Setting the more practical concerns surrounding the idea of secession aside, even on principled grounds, it is extremely difficult for citizens of a country to come to terms with the idea of secession, given the emotional attachment that most people have to their national identity as being a part of one nation. Despite most citizens of India not been directly affected by the conflicts in Kashmir and Gorkhaland, it is extremely difficult for them to come to terms with the separation of these territories from the Indian Union, for this will lead to a drastic change in India’s identity as a nation that we all buy into.

Given the practical and principled concerns that are involved in the process of secession from a nation, it imperative for secession to be considered only as the final option by any group seeking self-determination. Other effective solutions include:

1. Adopting a federal structure, with independent state governments, like the USA
2. Seeking autonomous status
3. Seeking more representation in Parliament and other decision making bodies
4. Decentralization of power

A very interesting argument in favor of secession came up in the form of the idea of “progression of states”, which asserts that it is justifiable for ethnic groups to want to separate from a collective whole in order to prevent their unique cultural identity from being lost. A simple example of the same would be to say that it is perfectly all right for every state in India to want to form a country of their own because individual states fear that the Indian national identity will not accommodate their unique identity. While this is an interesting argument to make in principle, to expect that the world will continue to remain stable despite states wanting to secede from one another at a faster rate than cell division is extremely idealistic. On the other hand, the preservation of cultural identity does not necessarily require secession from a state.

Secession must always be set aside as a last resort move, when all other options have been tried and exhausted. It is only when there is grave harm or human rights violations of the warring groups involved, or when a particular group can no longer remain a part of a collective whole that the right to secede must be exercised. Dissatisfied groups must, however, try to the best of their abilities to negotiate with their governments and adopt other means to tackle the issue before resorting to secession, for the benefit of all the stakeholders involved, including the citizens if the parent nation, whose national identity is based on the idea of the country as one collective whole.