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Crafting Nationhood

B.Surendra Rao

By Srirupa Roy
Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2007, pp. xii 424, Rs. 595.00


The postcolonial compulsions to grapple with or outgrow the memories and legacies of colonialism have produced a teasingly rich body of writings. If colonial experience called for negotiations and repudiations, their postcolonial interrogations have re-visited those sites for new answers and new fulfillments. The unshackling of the colonial world has raised doubts about the phenomenon itself; it has reviewed or redefined the historical experience of subjugation and the struggles to overcome it; and it has sought to come to terms with the brave new world it believed to have conjured up. The making and management of the new nation-states were not any less challenging than the obstetrics of decolonization. Srirupa Roy’s book, is a significant intervention in locating and making sense of the ways which the new Indian state used to craft its nationhood. It essentially reviews the Nehruvian stances of ordering a nation out of peoples in the new context of colonial retreat, but visualizes them not so much as the ways of a leader as the monitored self-perceptions of an emergent and emerging nation-state. It is, as the author assures us somewhat playfully, an unfashionable book about history ‘from above’, of capital city, powerful elites and dominant institutions that offered many inspirations of boredom and dust while trying to comprehend bureaucratic jargons, prescriptions and denials. (p. vii) It is ‘an exploration of the nation-state formation in postcolonial India; about how the state worked to define the meaning of India and Indianness, and in the process constituted a distinctive and authoritative identity for itself. …’ (p. viii)   Beyond Belief is a felicitously authentic interrogation of the nation-state phenomenon which has known and got used to the jostling enthusiasm and theoretical passion of dilettanti and scholars alike. Nation is more than what pre-modern ethnies produce or what is seen as an expression of industrialized society. It is also more than an imagined community, since that is determined by what it is given to imagine, or who gives it. Instead, nation may be seen as a constructed category, as what is made and historically contingent rather than as an essentialist, ‘found’ community. Srirupa Roy goes a step forward, and seeks to highlight the specific modalities, rationalities or techniques that enable nation-state formation, and argues that the reproduction of the nation-state rests not on the existence of individuals who identify with the nation but rather on their ability to identify the state ...

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