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Who Defines Development?

Anshul Bhamra

By Hannah Werner
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 276, Rs. 895.00


Development and nationalism were two themes highlighted in March 2016 with two major stories in the national media: the Union Budget Announcements 2016-17 and the uproar over sedition (anti-nationalist) charges on a few students of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Hannah Werner’s book The Politics of Dams also deliberates over the same themes. The author keeps the big dams at the centre of the stage and attempts to analyse developmental aims and objectives of the Indian state post Independence, comparing them with the development aims of the colonial state. The author also studies the political choices and the idea of development that promotes big dams and the associated conflicts around the same. Werner studies these contradictions in detail by analysing the protests and resistance movements against big dams. The author uses the Tehri Dam as a case example for detailing the nature, scope and articulation of protests movements—pre and post the Tehri Dam construction in Uttarakhand. Werner uses an analytical approach, beyond cost-benefit analyses, to assess the role of big dams in the current development paradigm. A broad historical overview, rich ethnographic account and theory of social change can be found in her style and approach of analysis. Werner brings out some key philosophies of development amongst Nehru, Gandhi and other eminent thinkers setting the base to the development discourse over big dams in the country. The postcolonial independent Indian state, as Werner suggests, adopts the two ideologies from the past of its colonial state: the approach of centralized top to bottom management of water resources and the reliance and promotion of ‘modern’ technologies as a path towards development of the nation. Nehru, the first Prime Minister and the architect of India’s development model had immense faith in the role of science and technology to develop India. Visual landmarks were considered as the modern symbols of development leading to what is referred to as ‘development monumentalism’. Nehru added an Indian flavour to the aesthetics of modernity by calling dams as ‘temples’ of modern India. An interesting review is conducted by the author on the views of modernity and development in the period, highlighting the contrast between Mahatma Gandhi’s and Nehru’s vision of development and modernity. Gandhi called machines and technology harmful if they replace man. His economic philosophy was based on subsistence and was intrinsically anti consumerist. While Gandhi criticized the western models of development, he claimed to ...

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