The spiralling crisis in Jammu and Kashmir; the Naxalite-Maoist menace that seems to be intensifying with every passing day; the disturbing reach of proxy governments run by militant groups in Manipur and Nagaland – today, a quarter of India is being held hostage by violence and anarchy. What has pushed the country, which has otherwise held together through seemingly insurmountable odds in the past, to the edge? Who and what is responsible for the state of affairs as it stands today? In a series of dispatches from the epicentres of what they call the country’s ‘battle zones’, Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita unveil the tensions, frustrations and heartbreaks, and the challenges and justifications, that are everyday realities in these troubled regions. Civil administrators talk about the widespread misappropriation of development funds in tribal and remote areas; security and police personnel describe extreme confrontations in the face of inadequate training and equipment; rebel ranks and former insurgents reveal how unemployment, lack of education and rampant exploitation have fuelled their defiance against the establishment and encouraged secessionist activities; self-styled vigilantes assert their need to provide what they consider ‘security’ and ‘justice’ in areas that have seen little of either. And, at the heart of the on-going turmoil, ordinary people mourn the loss of their loved ones – to starvation, lack of healthcare facilities and militancy – even as they voice their demand to be heard. The stories are many; the cast varied. Yet, collectively, they present an alarming picture of systemic failure on the part of the Indian state. A potent reminder of the mistakes that the government of India cannot afford to repeat, The Absent State is a work of great significance – an essential read for anyone who wants to make sense of the tumult of our times.