The best economic history mines data from the past to establish dis- tinct patterns, impute causal effects and unravel the mechanisms that drive economic sub-systems. But given the demands set by scholarship based on archival records and atypical sources, the advance of knowledge often tends to be marginal and yet controversial. Innovative discussions on local or sectoral developments are so specialized in terms of subject matter that they are known only to researchers in the same or allied fields. But as the output of such scholarship accumulates the potential for analyses that provide the big picture increases.
Terrorism has not just gripped the globe – discussion on this seemingly all-encompassing phenomenon tends to dominate not just the print media and television – but the world of books. If you pick up a western or Indian newspaper these days, it’s quite possible that three out of five reports are related to terrorism. There’s a huge amount of information pouring into households on the menace, but how much of it is authentic and based on fact?
Badruddin Umar is one of Bangladesh’s best known intellectuals. As a commentator and author on the internal social and economic dynamics of Bangladesh, his views have been ideologically consistent over several decades and commanded attention even from those who may disagree with him. His work on the language movement in East Pakistan has received critical acclaim.
The present volume covers the crucial period from 1958, when Pakistan came under the military rule of Ayub Khan to the emergence of Bangladesh in December 1971. Umar goes over the economic policies of the Ayub administration and their effects on the people of both wings, the political developments leading to the fall of Ayub, the manipulations of Bhutto with a compliant Yahya leading to the army crackdown in East Pakistan and the subsequent Indian intervention and the emergence of Bangladesh.
The title of the book under review is utterly misleading. It certainly misled me when I agreed to do the review. First of all, this is not a book about South Asia if we go by the widely accepted definition of the subcontinent. South Asia is supposed to have at least seven states: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives. The slight disagreement is about the justification of including two other states – Afghanistan and Myanmar. As far as this book is concerned, South Asia is only India and Pakistan. None of the chapters deals directly with any other countries. In nearly three and a half hundred pages of the main text, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal come up only in the last three pages, that too as an ‘Appendix’.
The end of the Kargil conflict (May-July 1999) witnessed a burst of creative activity with scores of books being published on this clash of arms. It was also subjected to an official inquiry headed by K. Subrahmanyam, resulting in the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) Report, later published by Sage. Strangely, except for a semi-official account by Shireen Mazari and some short articles written by others, Pakistan has maintained an unusual silence on this conflict, although its interlocutors have not been remiss in vigorously defending their aggression which precipitated the Kargil conflict. It has also been the staple of numerous seminars in both India and Pakistan, but also in the United States.
The Sharia is a dynamic living sacrosanct and comprehensive code. It contains the body of rules and legal principles based on the expres- sion of God and concurrence to the same by the Holy Prophet (PBUH). It is capable of accommodating the competing interests of all the people irrespective of their creed, class, caste, or nationality and it also offer solutions for the needs and demands of contemporary society from time to time.
In relation to South Asia, the basic story goes like this: Once upon a time, there existed a composite or syncretic culture among the Hindus and Muslims. Then, sometime during the eighteenth or nineteenth century, in some cases even the twentieth century – depending upon the place and the context, the ‘frail’ composite culture was fractured. The broad trajectory of this fracture was influenced by, one, the conversion and purification movements of Shuddhi and Tabligh, two, by the emerging politics of representation in the process of ‘democratisation’, and finally by the demand for clear-cut identities by the British colonial government.
A new book by any member of the early Subaltern Studies collective remains an eagerly awaited event – even when it consists, in the main, of already published essays as this one. Gyanendra Pandey has, of course, been a leading historian of modern India and given continuing and ample proof of his reputation by producing books and articles that have been provocative, original and densely described. Specifically, he has written densely detailed and carefully analysed narratives that have informed—and elaborated—key theoretical concerns regarding the relationship between subaltern initiatives and elite normalization of these, the social multiplicity and displacement of identities, the problems of memory and historical narrative and so on. Judged by the high standards that he has himself set, Routine Violence, a little disappointing for its offer of generalized insights and arguments into history and violence— which is clearly its main preoccupation – is not sufficiently rich to compensate for the denuded texture of historical description that was a challenging feature of his earlier narratives.
Professor Amartya Sen interrogates a large number of ideas in currency in the contemporary world including the tendency to categorize individuals and communities based on one overarching identity, clash of civilizations, multiculturalism, the presumed superiority of the West, terrorism emanating from religious fundamentalism and the like. As a review is constrained by limitations of space I shall rest content by discussing some of them.
The anarchist Prodhoun once famously denounced the state in the following terms: “To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked ridiculed outraged and dishonored. That is government; that is its justice, that is its morality.”
James Hunt’s explorations on Gandhi in this inspiring series of essays are set in a postmodern context and an attempt has been made to recover the real Gandhi from the various influences and events that surrounded him through his journey of life. The author moves between an open admiration, to an objective analysis of the man, and the Mahatma. He seems to project Gandhi as a postmodern thinker, philosopher, and doer too. But Gandhi is and will continue to remain a thinker whose relevance does not freeze in time but he continues to offer ways and means with which one can understand the world a little better.
It is always useful and insightful to review past events in tranquillity after the dust of fevered controversy has settled. Hindsight helps fill in missing details and information that might have influenced contemporary judgement and could lend perspective to what was until then a confused and unfolding narrative. However, far from shedding any new light, Kamran Shahid’s “new perspective” further clouds the great issues of the day that he seeks to discuss with a perverse thesis.