30 March 2011

Can Fundamentalism Release the Secular Impulse? Yes ...

Secularizing Islamists?
Jama‘at-e-Islami and Jama‘at-ud-da‘wa in Urban Pakistan
South Asia Across the Disciplines Series

Secularizing Islamists? provides a thorough analysis of two Islamist parties in Pakistan, the highly influential Jama‘at-e-Islami and the more militant Jama‘at-ud-Da‘wa, widely blamed for the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Basing her findings on ethnographic work with the two parties in Lahore, Humeira Iqtidar says that these Islamists are involuntarily facilitating secularization within Muslim societies, even as they vehemently oppose secularism.

This book offers a fine-grained account of the workings of both parties. It challenges received ideas about the relationship between the ideology of secularism and the processes of secularization.

Iqtidar illuminates the impact of women on Pakistani Islamism while arguing that these Islamist groups are inadvertently supporting secularization by forcing a critical engagement with the place of religion in public and private life. She highlights the role that competition among Islamists, as well as the focus on the state as the center of their activity, play in assisting secularization.

The result is a significant contribution to our understanding of emerging trends in Islam and politics within South Asia.

HUMEIRA IQTIDAR is a lecturer in politics at King’s College, London. Her research is in social and political theory relating to secularism, citizenship, religion, the state, and the market.

“The real strength of Secularizing Islamists? is the depth of its empirical research, both historical and anthropological—there is no other work that brings such a range of materials to a study of Islamism in contemporary Pakistan. Here, Humeira Iqtidar offers a compelling historical argument that demonstrates how Islamist movements in Pakistan have long relied upon processes of social and political secularization. This important book will have a wide readership across the social sciences and humanities and will be of interest to students of South Asian history and culture, the history of secularism, modern and contemporary Islamic studies, as well as policy professionals worldwide who are concerned with Islamic radicalism.”—Aamir Mufti

“At the heart of this book is an incongruous question: what would happen if we analyzed Islamists (who define themselves in almost polar opposition to ‘secularism’) as products of a process of ‘secularization’? What happens is not a definitive new interpretation of Islamism, but rather the suggestion of a range of new questions and perspectives for looking at Islamist thinking in its political and everyday contexts. Broad, original, and interdisciplinary, this book will find an important audience among a large number of scholars who have long struggled to make sense of the Islamist phenomenon.”—David Gilmartin

“Based on rich ethnography and written with historical and theoretical imagination, this riveting book offers a timely and subtle contribution to our understanding of the place and impact of religion in public life. Humeira Iqtidar’s resonant accounts of the origins, diversity, and role of gender in Pakistan’s Islamist movements, and her deep insight that secularization can be underpinned by social forces that combat secularism, force a reconsideration of long-held concepts and convictions about politics and belief.”—Ira Katznelson

HARDBACK / 232PP / RS 595 / ISBN 81-7824-332-6 / SOUTH ASIA RIGHTS / May 2011

18 March 2011

In Flight Reading Material (on a Monumental Scale)


Three Hundred Years of South Asian Ornithology
A Bibliography

Aasheesh Pittie


The history of South Asian ornithology spans three centuries and records over 1200 species of birds. This is the passionate work of hundreds of amateur and professional ornithologists. The popular as well as scientific documentation of this region’s avifauna is prodigious.
For the first time, this vast body of work is brought together here, in this detailed, meticulously researched, and annotated bibliography. Over 1700 books are listed, covering the ornithology of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tibet—a region encompassing the Oriental and Palaearctic realms. The bibliography embraces various types of work: from travelogues, field guides, species monographs, country handbooks, regional avifaunas, multi-volume ornithological works, and folios of art, to simple checklists. In addition, it provides brief glimpses into the lives of over 200 ornithologists. For comprehensive accessibility, it includes three indexes enabling readers to reach specific items of information with ease.

AASHEESH PITTIE is an amateur ornithologist, bibliophile, and bibliographer. He is interested in the history of South Asian ornithology, and has compiled a database of over 27,000 ornithological publications for the South Asian region. He has written several articles and papers on Indian birds, and edits the bi-monthly journal Indian Birds.

Aasheesh’s bibliography is an outstanding work of scholarship … a source of inspiration and a vital window to a wealth of knowledge.’ —Edward Dickinson, editor of The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World (2005)

Hardback / 868pp / Rs 795.00 / ISBN 81-7824-294-X / World rights / June 2010

15 March 2011

Great Kolkata Scholar interviewed

Partha Chatterjee

If you exclude Nobel laureates, India's most major intellectual export to the West is arguably Partha Chatterjee. Many would say there is no need to exclude the Nobel laureates when maintaining this proposition. Kolkata rejoices in the fact that Partha Chatterjee prefers to remain very much a part-time export: he only spends about 3-4 months being professor at Columbia; the rest of the time he is mainly to be found in dhoti-kurta within his natural habitat. His devotion to Kolkata and his self-location within the city are evident from his speech at the Fukuoka Prize of 2009 ceremony in Japan, during which he speaks partly in Bengali to praise Kolkata as the city which made his kind of scholar possible. It's worth experiencing the integrity and dignity of his address at this link.

Two incidental details in connection with the Fukuoka Prize: among scholars, this has only been won earlier by two Indians, Romila Thapar and Ashis Nandy (both ordinarily resident in New Delhi). It is awarded to scholars whose influence has been widely recognized as profound and monumental. Second, Partha Chatterjee had asked that the prize be bestowed on him at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, and the awarding body had agreed. Unfortunately, Chatterjee fell very seriously ill and had to be briefly hospitalized over the Kolkata dates, and the ceremony on the youtube video was held in Fukuoka, Japan.

Partha Chatterjee was instrumental in shifting Subaltern Studies from OUP to Permanent Black in 2000. He has, since, quietly and steadfastly supported Permanent Black, both via giving us his own books to publish, and by advising scholars and students to look seriously at Permanent Black. Most recently, Chatterjee was responsible for bringing to fruition the publication of Ranajit Guha's collected English essays, The Small Voice of History (Permanent Black paperback).

This short interview with Partha Chatterjee reveals some facets of one of contemporary Bengal's most reputed scholar-intellectuals, whose two new books, THE LINEAGES OF POLITICAL SOCIETY (see blog lower down) and THE BLACK HOLE OF EMPIRE, will be published by Permanent Black, Columbia University Press, and Princeton University Press.

Q: Your concept of ‘political society’ in your book The Politics of the Governed, and now in your next work, The Lineages of Political Society, adds a new dimension to our understanding of how non-Western democracy functions. Could you explain this concept simply, and how you came upon it?

A: Liberal political theory has always had a concept of political society to go along with civil society. While civil society meant the associative public sphere of economic and cultural life, political society was the sphere of political organization of citizens’ demands through representation, voting, political parties, etc. Liberal theory insists that the same principles – those of freedom, equality, rule of law, etc. – must prevail in both spheres. It is from my repeated readings of Antonio Gramsci that I first got the idea (though Gramsci himself does not state this in as many words) that there might be a disjuncture between the two spheres. My attempts to understand the evolution of Indian democracy in the 1990s led me to formulate this as a disjuncture within the democratic process itself that, while deviating from liberal norms, was not necessarily a retarded or corrupt form of democracy. I now think there was a fair amount of conceit in my giving the name ‘political society’ to a domain of activity characterized by illegality and deviation from norms. I was trying to point out that the constitutionally ordained norms of civil society, drawn from the particular history of Western liberal democracy, were actually incapable of ensuring justice or fairness for all citizens in a country like India and that the gap was being filled, in the absence of an alternative normative order, by improvised deviations, even illegalities.

To put it simply, political society is a domain of politics where particular population groups organize to press upon governmental authorities their specific demands for basic necessities such as housing, food, livelihood, daily amenities, and so on, which they have thus far provided for themselves by violating the law or administrative regulations or established civic norms. Thus, they may be squatters on public land, or ticketless commuters on public transport, or illegal users of water and electricity, or hawkers on city streets, or manufacturers in the informal sector violating pollution or taxation or labour regulations. Such groups use the space of democratic politics to make their demands.

Governmental authorities too frequently respond to such demands not by clamping down on the illegalities but accommodating them as exceptions within the general structure of normative regulations. That is because political authorities realize that it would be impossible to provide for the basic demands of all within the strict limits of legal and civic propriety and yet the pressure not to alienate large numbers of such voters forces them to do something for them. It is my contention that a great deal of democratic politics in India is about these negotiations. They are not always pretty; sometimes they are violent. But they must not be dismissed as pathological.

Q: In what ways does Lineages of Political Society complement your earlier work, The Politics of the Governed? Does it also develop out of Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World and link in some ways with The Nation and Its Fragments?

A: LPS complements PTG in two ways. First, it explores the historical genealogy of ‘political society’ back into the eighteenth century, the Indian responses to colonial forms of government, and certain strands within anti-colonial politics such as the traditionalists (who did not appreciate Western forms of civil society) or Tagore who was strongly critical of nationalism. Second, it elaborates on certain aspects of political society that were insufficiently discussed in PTG – for instance, populism or the informal sector of production or the role of violence. In doing this I also respond to some of the criticisms that have been made of PTG.

As for links with my earlier work on nationalism, I can’t see any. Certainly, when I wrote those books, I had not formulated the problem of political society. But perhaps there are connections that others may discover.

Q: In what ways have living, teaching, and working in Kolkata been vital to the trajectory of your intellectual life and to the specific ideas you’ve outlined in your writings?

A: I am sure the experience has been central to my intellectual formation. The Kolkata I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s was often described as the most horrifying example of urban degradation anywhere in the world. I vividly remember as a college student waiting at bus stops besieged by begging mothers with infants in their arms; vast swathes of the city’s pavements were inhabited by homeless people from the countryside. When I started working in Kolkata from the early 1970s, the political climate was tense, with severe repression against the Left, especially Naxalites. It was at that time that, in association with my colleague (the late) Hitesranjan Sanyal, I began making regular trips into the Bengal countryside, interviewing several hundred rural people involved in the nationalist movement. This was perhaps the most valuable parts of my education as a social scientist. I also think the relative isolation of Kolkata in the academic life of India and its lack of well-endowed universities and institutes actually helped me to stay out of the obligations and temptations to which those located in Delhi, for instance, are subject. I had the chance to improvise, innovate, and think outside the prevailing orthodoxies.

Q: Do you support the anti-CPM political current sweeping across Bengal? Do you foresee improvement or worsening for the state with the removal of the CPM?

A: I have always been strongly influenced in my thinking by various currents of Marxist scholarship and have considered myself part of the Left in Bengal. However, I have been a frequent critic of the CPI(M) in the last four decades. I am not surprised by the spate of popular opposition to the Left Front that is sweeping West Bengal right now. At the same time, I am not hopeful that the parties that are likely to defeat the Left have a credible alternative to offer. In fact, I will not be surprised if they replicate many of the same forms of intolerance and sectarianism that have characterized the CPI(M).

Q: Could you list five or six non-scholarly books that have meant a great deal to you?

A: This is a difficult question to answer. I can think of Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land that set me thinking about using the historical archives to construct a fictional account of a long lost world and comparing that account with current ethnography. I suspect my reading of Amitav’s book had something to do with the birth of Princely Impostor. I can also think of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul which absolutely captivated me. It would be far-fetched to claim that it has any resemblance to my soon-to-be-published The Black Hole of Empire but somewhere, I suspect, there is a trace. As for other books, I once used to read books about science, and two of them are my all time favourites – Brighter Than a Thousand Suns by Robert Junck, and One, Two, Three … Infinity by George Gamow. Another bestseller I still find thoroughly intriguing is Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. A book by a philosopher that I think is exemplary for its innovativeness and lucidity is Ian Hacking’s The Taming of Chance, but I don’t know if you’ll think of it as entirely non-scholarly. Finally, the non-scholarly and unstoppably influential book of all time for me is The Communist Manifesto. Even today, reading it gives me a thrill.

13 March 2011



The Retreat of Democracy

(permanent black paperback)

comprises scintillatingly readable and unexpectedly witty essays. Economists are usually dry-as-dust scholars dabbling in statistics and equations beyond our ken. How come Kaushik Basu is quite a different sort of economist? This interview provides a picture of someone with a quite unusually wide range of interests:

Q: Most topnotch economists teach economics and write mathematical economics comprehensible only to their peers. By contrast, The Retreat of Democracy, your third book of popular essays (following Economic Graffiti and Of People, Of Places), shows literary elegance, a philosopher’s wit, and an uncommon ability to communicate economic ideas to newspaper readers, suggesting that your intellectual links are with left-leaning economic philosophers such as Sen, Keynes, and Krugman. Who do you see as your major icons? And have you consciously forged your trajectory to be much more than that of a professional economist?

A: The inability to communicate is so often treated as a hallmark of scholarship that I hope I am not being foolish in treating your observation as praise. Thank you. Thank you also for associating me with these three economists for whom I have great admiration. I do consider myself left-leaning, while being fully aware that the “establishment” left would not consider me so. I find it very difficult to owe allegiance to a dogma or a party line. I owe my intellectual awakening to Bertrand Russell and revere his irreverence for tradition. My most major icon may well be David Hume. I grew up on and have endless admiration for Rabindranath Tagore, though not as a philosopher. My preference is for deductive philosophy and Tagore’s was far from that. But with his multiple talents, ranging from literally all genres of writing to expressionist art, when expressionism was only beginning to appear in Europe, he was iconic indeed. I don’t think I have consciously forged any trajectory. Excepting these last 15 months in government, I have been completely wayward in pursuing whatever my heart desired. I know that that can lead people to ruin. I have just been lucky … thus far.

Q: Among the most captivating things about your popular essays is the ability to reveal links between economic theory, political problems, and everyday lived realities in India. A brilliant essay shows neighbourhood street game strategies in Kolkata underpinning the sorts of games politicians play in the arena of international relations and within the United Nations. Others explain Indian labour laws, trade policies in relation to the WTO, alternative voting systems which can pre-empt hung parliaments, and the impact of cultural norms on economic functioning in Norway and India. Could you tell us something about your upbringing and early life which seem to have predisposed you so clearly towards ethical concerns as well as disciplinary diversity?

A: Where I come from is difficult to answer. So let me get over with the physical part of it. I was born in a small, over-crowded, joint-family home in North Kolkata. A few years later, as my father’s legal career took off, we moved to a spacious home in the southern part of the city. I stayed there all through my school years and moved to Delhi only to go to college—St. Stephen’s. Despite this relatively sedentary start, I am lucky that I find myself easily at home wherever I happen to be. I don’t know how it came to be this way but I consider myself a natural anthropologist. I love to watch the customs, follies, and foibles of human beings. I have written somewhere that I was born in a setting to get to which many an anthropologist would spend huge amounts of time and money. I was lucky I got there free of cost. The huge cast of characters around me—loving, warm and displaying a fascinating range of social and cultural mores and every endearing eccentricity you can think of—may have been a factor stirring the amateur anthropologist in me. But the number of kids born in North Kolkata in the early fifties, when India’s population growth was at its peak, was huge and on doing a head-count of anthropologists it is obvious that my explanation is not too compelling.

Q: Martha Nussbaum says your appointment as Chief Economic Advisor in India suggests “the real empowerment of good intellectuals” in the country. Yet given that, first, the dominant interest of economists serving the Indian state is GDP and ‘growth’, rather than ‘capabilities’ (a term associated with Nussbaum and Sen), and second, that such empowerment also seems to function as a façade behind which to cover up incredible levels of political corruption, do you feel like a fish out of water? Or are you in your element?

A: In the larger political setting and the rough and tumble of graft and greed, I do feel a fish out of water. But I have been lucky that most of my immediate dealings are with people I respect a lot. Once one is in the belly of the beast called government, it quickly becomes evident that the majority of human beings at the helm of politics and policymaking are decent people and committed professionals. But one also learns from this that it takes only a few to vitiate the whole atmosphere. Fortunately, the challenge of designing good policy is so exciting that I do get a lot of adrenalin rush from my current job as Chief Economic Adviser. At the same time I miss my academic life—both the teaching and the life on the cutting-edge of research acutely—and, though I am enjoying my present life on the frontiers of policymaking immensely, I hope to get back to academe before long.

Q: You’ve been a professor in the Delhi School of Economics and at Cornell. What have been some of the differences in your teaching experiences here and there?

A: They were surprisingly similar. The best students at both places were first rate. They kept you on your toes, made you give your best. Both institutes were totally egalitarian. The treatment was the same whether you were a starting lecturer or senior professor. Ideas propounded by either could be challenged, admired, or castigated. The one advantage the Delhi School had was the coffee house, where we spent hours, chatting, developing new ideas, and also wasting plenty of time. This had no equivalent at Cornell. On the other hand, a pleasure I found at Cornell in large measure was PhD students. Because of the large exodus of students after the MA, Delhi had a very slender PhD program. In my 17 years there, I supervised only 2 students. At Cornell, I supervised 18 students in 15 years. Working closely with teams of PhD students was one of the great joys at Cornell.

Q: Could you list five or six books outside professional economics that have meant a lot to you, and which you’d recommend to all your friends?

A: If I had to recommend six books, these would be it.

—Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions. There are few lives so miserable and so majestic at the same time.

—Catherine Tait’s My Father Bertrand Russell. Though if you were to read only one book on Russell, it would be a toss up between this and Russell’s own Autobiography.

—Any one P.G. Wodehouse.

—Manohar Shyam Joshi’s T’ta Professor.

—Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Or maybe his The Castle, though since I lost my copy before I reached the end of the book, I never found out if the Castle actually exists.

—In case you can read Bengali, I would highly recommend, Sharatchandra Chatterjee’s Srikanta, especially volume 1.

And please note that I did not include in this list the Economic Survey 2010-11, even though by the criterion of “it meant a lot to me” it fits the bill for it swallowed up the better part of my life these past few months.

11 March 2011

The Ugliness of the Hindu Male and Other Propositions

Masculinity, Asceticism, Hinduism
Past and Present Imaginings of India

This book analyses the links between religion, masculinity, and asceticism in Indian political and cultural history.

Through an examination of nationalist discourse in the writings of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Rao, V.D. Savarkar, M.S. Golwalkar, and many others, Chakraborty reveals how ideas about masculinity and Hindu asceticism came to be reworked for cultural and political purposes. Over the colonial period, Indian leaders and the literati were impelled to contest colonialist views of Hindu effeminacy. In the process, asceticism became a critical site for notions of masculinity.

Chakraborty also argues that the politics of the contemporary Hindu Right relies heavily on selective and manipulated images of Hindu asceticism and manliness, drawn from such writers in line with their political agenda. Inaccuracies and distortions within Hindu Right politics are shown up by careful analysis of the many different ways in which masculine asceticism was actually imagined and written about.

Ignoring disciplinary divisions, this book cuts through politics, history, cultural studies, and literary analysis to offer an excellent view of concepts such as aggression, effeminacy, manliness, spirituality, asceticism, and nationalist virtue as these have been configured and reconfigured over the past century and a half.

CHANDRIMA CHAKRABORTY is Associate Professor, Department of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University, Canada. Her research is on South Asia, postcolonial studies, and cultural studies.

hardback / 276pp / Rs 695 / ISBN 81-7824-298-2 / Opus 1 Series / World rights / May-June 2011

PARTHA THE PROLIFIC (but can he overtake the Tambrams Sanjay Subrahmanyam and Ram Guha?)

Topnotch social scientists within South Asian Studies do not average more than three or four books over their career. Among the major exceptions are Partha Chatterjee, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, and Ram Guha. Everything Chatterjee writes makes a big impact across the disciplines. Political philosophers, social theorists, historians, and students of cultural studies all grapple with his ideas and paradigm shaking interventions. Permanent Black and Columbia University Press are jointly publishing Chatterjee's next pathbreaking exploration of his concept of "political society", a term as hotly debated as '"Subaltern Studies" two decades earlier ...

Lineages of Political Society
Studies in Postcolonial Democracy

In Lineages of Political Society the eminent political theorist Partha Chatterjee reveals the emergence of a new theory of postcolonial democracy. As against earlier ideas about the nature of democracy—which grew predominantly out of notions and practices in the West—Chatterjee powerfully argues that the theory now in evidence is not merely a record of the imperfections and immaturity of democracy in the non-Western world. On the contrary, it has devised concepts and analytical tools to understand the formation of new democratic practices. In doing so, it has also shown up histories of modern political institutions which are not part of the genealogy of Western democracy.

In the course of making the
se arguments Chatterjee revisits several themes introduced in his acclaimed earlier work, The Politics of the Governed (2004). To those themes he now adds historical depth and contemporary empirical detail. And although most of the examples in Lineages of Political Society are drawn from India, the arguments within it afford comparisons with countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Chatterjee also here clarifies the location of his work in relation to liberal political theory, understandings of contemporary capitalism, and theories of nationalism and populism. In several chapters he joins the lively and ongoing debate over his concept of “political society”.

This work will be indispensable for anyone wishing to understand the nature and history of democracy, its practices and functionings within the contemporary non-West, and the major expansion in political thought being brought about by one of the world’s most fertile political philosophers.

PARTHA CHATTERJEE has been a founding member of “Subaltern Studies” and director of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC), Kolkata. He is presently professor of anthropology at Columbia University and honorary professor at the CSSSC. His many books include Empire and Nation: Essential Writings 1985–2005 (2010), A Princely Impostor? The Kumar of Bhawal and the Secret History of Indian Nationalism (2002), and The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (1993).

hardback / 290pp + 24 colour illustrations / Rs 750 / 81-7824-317-2 / South Asia rights / June 2011 / copublished by Columbia University Press