Saturday, January 6, 2018: 3:30 PM
Columbia 12 (Washington Hilton)
The Madison Square speech delivered by Narendra Modi in New York soon after his inauguration as Prime Minister in May 2014 marked a paradigm shift in India’s international image as a key global player. Setting a precedent for his future international visits and diplomatic engagements, Modi brought the affluent American Indian to the centre of nationalist politics and its twin idioms of development and a civilisational Hinduism. Anti-colonialism and an Indian-ness identified with its political territory in the subcontinent was erased to make way for an image of India purveyed by its diaspora, primarily the Gujarati diaspora and its networks of trade, capital and culture across the globe. An easy conflation, enabled by the civilisational motif of Hinduism, of pre-colonial, even ancient trade networks of Gujaratis in the Indian Ocean with their global networks and power lobbies in the 21st century may serve well the interests of an Indian state that models itself after and competes with China in an international arena. Yet, such conflation irons out the colonial and postcolonial histories of the these networks as they panned out in the Indian Ocean from East Africa to Southeast Asia, including slavery, smuggling and close financial ties with empire. The paper argues that existing critiques centred on the state and its commitment to a universal Hinduism, are myopic to the changing role of the Indian state vis-a-vis the networks of Gujarati capital and therefore inadequate to explain the turn to the diaspora in nationalist politics. By bringing back the focus on these networks and their economics in the Indian Ocean in postcolonial times (when they were deemed illegal), the paper illustrates how the new Indian state taps into the regimes of mobility and illegality of these networks to reinforce its territorial image and its global presence in the 21st century.
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