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January 23, 2011

Page: 25/40

Home > 2011 Issues > January 23, 2011

A flawed approach to Indian identity
By Manju Gupta

Indian Identity Narrative and the Politics of Security, Gitika Commuri, Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, Pp 315 (HB), Rs 795.00

WRITTEN by an Assistant Professor at the California State University, Bakersfield, USA, this is a study based on the constructive literature which argues that identity conceptions influence state behaviour. She examines the construction of these national discourses for engagement with others, while examining India’s relations with Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan and China and the relationship between national identities. In the process, it reveals several surprising insights along with the challenges that confront India.

The book deals with the national identity conceptions and State behaviour, examining whether identities (seen in terms of self/other relations) constitute a crucial element of State interest, both in terms of goals and strategies. Primarily it discusses the effect of secular and religious-cultural discourses of identity on domestic and foreign affairs in the context of India.

The case study– Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan and China is determined by the fact that these are, in a sense, exemplary. Others in the national identity discourse and have been the focus of security concerns since independent India emerged in 1947. China has been the other significant power in the Indian imagination. Analysis of these cases is restricted to the years 1990-2003.

Though Kashmir remained under Indian control as part of the Indian Union, it was assigned a special status in the Constitution. Under Article 370 it was granted special status and came to enjoy a high degree of autonomy. Here the author speaks of the ambiguous role played by Sheikh Abdullah till the end. He refers to Muslims as the Others and the Hindu majority as Self – a perception influenced by the history of Partition and Hindu suspicions about the interrelations between internal (Indian Muslims) and external Others (Muslims in Bangladesh and Pakistan) and “the immense potential for enhanced danger that this condition represents.” He continues that such a discourse has “allowed for violent relations between the two communities and aggressive actions on the part of the Hindu majority when represented by the RSS, VHP and the BJP.”

The main observations of this study are:

  • Treatment of internal and external Others may vary and we should be careful about our understanding of the relationship between them.

  • “Secular and religious-cultural identity discourses” have helped shape relations with Jammu & Kashmir but we cannot use conceptions of Self to understand “specific strategies of engagement”.

  • Parties representing religious-cultural identity and necessarily not secular or with pluralistic identities are more cooperative in their dealings with external Others.

  • Realistic pragmatic politics instead of identity conceptualisation lead to cooperative action under certain conditions.

  • We must conceptualise the role of identity since the end goals and strategies seldom occur. The chapter on Jammu & Kashmir makes interesting reading. —MG

(Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, B1/I-1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110 044;

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