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India Through The French Lens

Ajay K. Mehra

Edited by Christophe Jaffrelot
Yatra Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 914, Rs.995.00


Christophe Jaffrelot, a noted French expert on Indian politics, has made a stupendous effort to bring together this collection of forty-five essays, including an Introduction and a conclusion by him of French writings on India. Prepared as a Reader for French students of Indian studies, this English translation connects Indian readers (students particularly) to analyses of various Indian issues over the years by French Indologists. Aside from contemporary researchers, the volume contains essays by scholars who began introducing India to France. The significance of this volume must be seen from the perspective of the increasing engagement of the two countries in the field of social sciences. It must be underlined at the very outset that while there has been a sustained Franco-Indian engagement, the reverse engagement has been scarce, despite the fact that there are bilateral agreements in various fields between Indian and French institutions. Indeed, learning an additional language, perhaps limited facilities to learn French in Indian educational institutions, is a factor. A sustained effort from the Indian side to study France (and French language) should take into account that the French scholars learn more than one language to study India. This would add to comparativist literature on two countries. It is indeed, as the editor claims, an ‘ambitious book’, covering a wide gamut of issues in over 900 pages, including a comprehensive bibliography at the end. As the sub-title suggests, the 37 chapters in the volume (and chapter 37 dealing with literature has six small essays on literature in different languages) are organized in four parts—Politics and Economy, The Indian Union and its Political Administrative Hierarchy, The Indian People: Class, Caste and Communities, and Media and the Arts. Aside from the editorial Introduction and Conclusion, each section is prefaced with an introductory statement to facilitate contextual understanding of issues in the section by readers; and Christophe Jaffrelot, editor of the volume and a distinguished political scientist, has contributed six essays on various socio-political themes. Considering that the chapters in the volume are researched essays by respective authors, it suggests the level of engagement of French social scientists with India for over six decades. This is in a way a welcome ‘other’ perspective from the Anglo-American engagement with India, which too has contributed in its own ways in the understanding of India as it continued its forward march since Independence. Away from Orientalism focusing on what does not change in India, ...

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