Speaking the Nation. The Oratorical Making of Secular, Neoliberal India

Bajpai, Anandita
Anzahl Seiten
XVI, 335 S.
£ 28.99; INR 1,480.00; € 34,30
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Shabnam Surita, Abteilung für Südasienstudien, Rheinische-Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

This book traces the journey of India „post 1991“, during which the country was projected to be transitioning from a state of instability towards that of a contender for global leadership. The author, Anandita Bajpai, acknowledges the two main guiding principles of this „new India“ as the rise of the political Hindu right wing and the steady liberalisation of India’s economy. In doing so, this book explores the comparatively novel approach of analysis of speeches of the state leaders and understands the process of oratorical nation-building in post-1990s India.

A captivating read, primarily because of its strong content analysis and also because of its sharp argumentation, this book traces the „linguistic operationalisation“ (p. 3) of how the narrative of „Emerging India“ is staged, both within India and abroad, by the four governments India has seen since 1991. Right at the onset, Bajpai raises a very pertinent question which in other research often remains underprioritised and that is the relationship between the centrality of state secularism vis-à-vis the image of „Emerging India“, which brings the reader to a more concrete contextualisation of the way the Indian nation was being conjured by the leaders in the years 1991 and thereon. The author carefully posits the simultaneous rise of neoliberal economics on one side and the notion of secularism so as to set the context for the India that followed. More than that, she acknowledges the fact that the emergence that state leaders wanted to project was indeed a „rhetoric“ desperately trying to garb the communal and deficit realities that laced lives of Indians during that time. To contextualise India in the global context, Bajpai situates India in a larger plate and looks for further patterns. Beginning in 1989, the world as we knew until then did go on to change significantly which questioned the very nature of the „nation-state“. This phenomenon, as Bajpai argues, turns into a strengthening of the state as expressed through ritualistic, spoken masking of its crises and further pushing the „Shining India“ campaign, among other maneouvres.

In the first chapter, Bajpai carefully weaves the role of speaking and listening across a variety of circumstances, thereby arguing for the authority which orality and aurality have come to assume over the years in the public sphere. Along with it, the author also puts forward how Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister, set the tone of public speaking for generations to follow. This chapter is crucial in establishing the gravity of the theme at hand, and a good transition into the next section which looks at how change, as a temporal force, has been produced and projected.

The second and the third chapters aim to look at different strategies undertaken by the Prime Ministers as „tactics of temporalization“ (pp. 85 and 125). By the time the reader gets midway into the second chapter, one can tell that the author’s selection of excerpts from the speeches in order to strengthen her argument is commendable and befitting. The excerpts, along with the arguments, demonstrate aptly how state leaders justified actions as necessary (p. 91) time and again through the speeches. Interestingly in the second chapter, the author unravels quite tactfully the categorisation, as performed by the speeches, of various economic phenomena as „ours“ and „theirs“ in order to create an acceptable temporal paradigm of the true „Indian economy“. While doing so, Bajpai also reveals a patterned categorisation of the target group, i. e. the population, which adds another nuance at the way futures have come to be imagined. The way the second and the third chapter reminds the reader of the creation of „the common man“ is noteworthy, especially in its role in shifting blames on anybody but the government in power. But more than that, these two chapters, interlinked in their content and form, address the indispensability of the imagination of the past and its reproduction in the present so as to devise a justified idea of the future. This imagination and carefully selective reproduction refers to the politics of time (p. 141) that one witnesses in these speeches. To arrive at her argument, the author explains which tropes are repeated, which are new to public political communication in India, thereby clarifying on the „temporal frame of reference“ (p. 168) which these speeches adhere to.

The fourth chapter elucidates on Narendra Modi’s oratorial strategies and patterns, places them in a trajectory of speeches by his predecessors, and evokes the cause of the so-called receptors of the performances: the audience, both „internal“ and „external“. The author uses terms such as the „perceived inside“ and the „perceived outside“ to denote the two receptive spheres of the speeches of the Prime Ministers throughout this chapter. However, one does miss a brief, if not detailed, account on what the author considers within these categories, and also where exactly the „inside“ ends and the „outside“ begins. Once again, the author’s analysis of the lexical justification of change is accurate and revealing, and the articulation of how this process leads to the creation of „oratorical truth“ (p. 203) is truly interesting.

The fifth chapter takes this book into its second point of focus i. e. „state secularism“, and invokes its design and presentation in the speeches, thereby locating the same within the larger context of India’s tryst with economic reforms and transitions. Entering the discussion on the rather end of the book, Bajpai views Indian secularism as a mixture of carefully selected terms and strategies. The clever correlation between religion – that often provides justification for explaining Indian secularism – , language and vocabulary of the speech and emphasis on tolerance is one of the major accomplishments of this section. This chapter carefully analyses the role of the Indian constitution and the leaders in both contextualizing secularism as a necessary virtue as well as the role of history as a legitimate source for valid tropes of secularism. The way memory and selective remembrance, and often forgetting too, are integral characteristics of enacting state secularism are discussed in detail (p. 238). (Re)definitions of secularism, as and how found fit to the agenda of each of the respective state leaders, is something that the author also debones thoroughly with solid excerpts and contextualisation. More importantly, the relevant connections between Modi’s smooth oratorical shift from secularism to development (pp. 255–256) hints at future possibilities of research queries for scholars.

Even though one does miss a section in the book on how the audiences, both internal and external, continue to perceive these speeches, this book succeeds in opening up the possibility of a future project(s) that focuses primarily on this and much more. Given the adeptness with which the author argues for the value of the spoken word in the Indian context, this is something that the reader could be left wondering about as they finish reading the book. Nonetheless, Anandita Bajpai begins an interesting discussion about the nature of political communication in the Indian context which juxtaposes two defining phenomena of the 1990s, secularism and neoliberal economy. In doing so, she unabashedly presents a refreshing source of speeches of state leaders, something that has been otherwise left quite untouched by academia. All in all, this book is a heartfelt recommendation for scholars, readers and aficionados of both oral cultures and political economy in the Indian context, if not more.

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