By Sankaran Krishna
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Extra info for Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka, and the Question of Nationhood (Borderlines series)
With all his greatness and contradictions and power of moving the masses, he is above the usual standards. One cannot measure him or judge him as we would others. (1936, 547–51) By seemingly conceding the high moral ground to Gandhian idealism, Nehru reinscribes the low but practical, pragmatic, and powerful, enterprise of state building within the logic of realpolitik. Whatever the moral inclinations of the state builder, his conscience has to take a back seat to the more compelling historical imperative: nation building.
What is interesting from my perspective is the degree to which the main proponent of planning was explicit regarding its importance as a symbolic act that would endow the nation with a sense of its own corporeality, a physical sense of being, something he felt was missing in the narrative of Indian history. Nehru’s various speeches on the Five-Year Plans and on the quasi-autonomous (from the purview of Parliament and concerned minstries, such as finance or industry) Planning Commission are as full of references to the emotional and ideational importance of planning as to its economic importance.
If one deconstructs the idea of the nation as just another vestige of modernity’s spent narratives, what sort of alternative spatial imaginaire can one contemplate in its stead? If the postcolonial nation-state in its present avatar has reached a dead end, what sort of politics can we envisage to produce spaces of tolerance, plurality, and nonviolence? These questions involve normative choices, a sensitivity to specific political contexts, and implications of suggested actions. A premature and exaggerated claim regarding the death of the narratives of modernity or of the futility of any form of identity politics based on the idea of a sovereign selfhood incapacitate our ability to deal precisely with such matters of degree.