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An Intractable Problem

Malla V.S.V. Prasad

By Deepa M. Ollapally
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. xi 239, Rs. 295.00


The United Nations designated Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary (October 2) as the International Day of Nonviolence. Unfortunately, not even a single day passes nowadays without an act of extremism in South Asia, as it has emerged as a home to a wide spectrum of extremist groups.   The Politics of Extremism in South Asia is the outcome of a three-year project by Deepa M. Ollapally, noted South Asia expert based in the US. This is the first full-length study about the rather intractable problem of extremism in South Asia in the post-9/11 world. The author looks beyond religious and ethnic factors and beyond the domestic level to explain the rise of extremism in South Asia. Mono-causal explanations cannot adequately capture a socio-political phenomenon as complicated as extremism. By opting for the term ‘extremism’ rather than the blanket term ‘terrorism’, she brings out various nuances while treating this complex subject. She enriches the current global debate about extremism by treating the state as a foreground variable rather than a background constant.   The book has eight chapters. The introductory chapter puts forward the analytical framework of the study. It takes the reader through major explanatory frameworks for extremism both at the domestic and global levels such as ethno-religious identity, relative deprivation, elite manipulation, state repression, lack of political access, globalization, and transnational networks. Having identified the limitations of existing explanatory frameworks, she offers a fresh framework for better understanding the issue of extremism. Informed by the insights of theorists such as Peter Gourevitch, the author focuses on the impact of external factors on domestic structures and preferences. Underlining the centrality of state actors in South Asia, she introduces the variable of ‘geopolitical identity’ (geopolitics of ethno-religious identity) and goes on to show clearly their influence in determining the level of extremism in the South Asian states. She discusses the pivotal role of the state in the interaction of internal politics and external geopolitics.   The author’s central argument is that the trajectory of extremism in South Asia could be better understood by examining a three-way identity struggle between ethno-religious, secular, and geopolitical identities. The pattern of this struggle determines the evolution of either moderate or extreme political outcomes. The conception by state elites of their state’s geopolitical identity exerts tremendous influence on the formulation of their internal and external policies. She explains how the state managers control the levers of national identity ...

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