States of Emergency: Democracy and Authoritarianism in Postcolonial India

AHA Session 38
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 2
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Waldorf Room (Hilton Chicago, Third Floor)
Matthew Shutzer, New York University
Vazira F.-Y. Zamindar, Brown University

Session Abstract

This panel explores the political history of India’s post-colonial democracy through the events and processes that have often appeared as exceptions to the democratic form: state violence and authoritarianism. Efforts to recuperate the radical imaginary of India’s democratic formation have celebrated the enshrinement of liberal procedural norms, such as the making of the universal adult franchise or the drafting of the Indian constitution, as a basis for understanding how the Indian state came to govern a heterogeneous society emerging from colonial rule (Khilnani, 1997; Kohli, 2001). Viewing the consolidation of the state through its own legitimating discourses of power has often effected a conflation of democracy with state institutions, while also marginalizing the illiberal traditions of state authority and the rejections of national citizenship that have shadowed democratic state-formation in the postcolony (Jayal, 2013; Sundar, 2016). If democracy itself might be a history (Rosanvallon, 2006), the papers gathered here suggest such a history exceeds an analysis of state institutions or the unfolding of a merely pedagogical logic of democratic governance. Indeed, a history of Indian democracy might well appear at the very points where the liberal state can no longer account for itself.

Taking the case studies of Hyderabad, Jharkhand, Kashmir, and the period of India’s Emergency regime, these papers locate processes of fracture within the Indian nation-state that reframe our understanding of state violence as a constitutive, rather than exceptional, form of power (Apter, 2018). Reading authoritarianism in this way not only uncovers new social and cultural histories of anti-state or radical democratic mobilization, but it further reveals the shifting balance of forces and crises of legitimacy that have led the Indian state towards enactments of violence. Sunil Purushotham’s work engages with a founding act of political violence in post-partition India, the invasion of Hyderabad State by the Indian military, and the anti-Muslim violence that characterized Hyderabad’s contested integration into the Indian polity. Matthew Shutzer’s paper examines the failure of land reform in India’s coal mining region of Jharkhand and the rise of a radical worker and indigenous peoples (adibasi) coalitional politics out of the ruins of the Jharkhand autonomy movement in the 1960s. Hafsa Kanjwal’s presentation looks at the making of Naya (New) Kashmir, a socio-economic development program under Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad that created an apparatus of local authoritarianism and state terror. Kristin Plys’ contribution follows the rise of totalitarianism under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through the lens of the Indian Coffee House in New Delhi, a site of democratic resistance and deliberation under the Emergency regime (1975 – 1977).

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