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Postcolonial Insecurities

Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka, and the Question of Nationhood

Series: Borderlines
Volume: 15
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 356
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  • Book Info
    Postcolonial Insecurities
    Book Description:

    This ambitious work explores the vexed connections among nation building, ethnic identity, and regional conflict by focusing on a specific event: Indian political and military intervention in the ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. Postcolonial Insecurities counters the perception of “ethnicity” as an inferior and subversive principle compared with the progressive ideal of the “nation.” Krishna, in fact, shows ethnicity to be indispensable to the production and reproduction of the nation itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5285-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxxviii)

    This book is about the troubled and violent journey of postcolonial nationalism in South Asia. It examines the interaction between the modern enterprise of nation building and the emergence of ethnic conflict in this area by focusing on a specific event: Indian political and military involvement in the struggle between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. It argues that the attempt to construct nation-states on the basis of exclusionary narratives of the past and univocal visions for the future has reached an impasse. The fixation with producing a pulverized and uniform sense of national identity (usually along majoritarian lines) has...

  6. PART I Narratives in Contention:: Indian, Sinhalese, and Tamil Nationalisms

    • 1 Mimetic Histories: Foreign Policy and the Narration of India
      (pp. 3-30)

      In a sense, to speak of foreign policy presupposes the availability of a given spatialization of the world in terms of us and them. Conventionally, foreign policy is the set of actions by “us” out “there.” In the modern, post-Westphalian world of nation-states, foreign policy constitutes the actions of state elites who try to maintain, at minimum, something called “our national security” and to further at every opportunity something called “our national interest.” This discourse of foreign policy is amnesiac about the relative novelty of its central identities and the dialectical character of its antinomies. It exemplifies the Nietzschean dictum...

    • 2 Producing Sri Lanka from Ceylon: J. R. Jayewardene and Sinhala Identity
      (pp. 31-58)

      In this chapter, I examine the production of a modern nation in Sri Lanka through a process that has been extraordinarily violent in both physical and epistemic terms. I do this primarily through a close analysis of a particular text authored by a former Sri Lankan president whose political career spanned most of the twentieth century, J. R. Jayewardene. If we are the stories we tell about ourselves, Jayewardene’s fable regarding the origins and evolution of Sri Lanka is interesting for the ways in which it produces a sense of identity out of difference. It is an encapsulation of history...

    • 3 Essentially Tamil: The Divergent Narratives of Eelam and Dravidinadu
      (pp. 59-100)

      Ethnicity is not. Any more than the nation. I begin this chapter by evoking Frantz Fanon’s famous quote, “The Negro is not. Any more than the white man” (1967, 231), to indicate the dialectical and mutually constitutive character of ethnicity and nation under the regimes of modernity. Neither nation nor ethnicity is an immanent force, an essence within history, destined for eventual recuperation. Rather, they have to be understood in a relational framework, one that highlights their mutual indispensability and the hierarchizing effects of their interaction (Comaroff 1991). The intellectual and political privileging of the nation-state and its univocal discourse...

  7. PART II Delusions of Grandeur:: India, Tamil Nadu, and Sri Lanka

    • 4 Modulating Bangladesh: India and Sri Lanka, 1980–84
      (pp. 103-128)

      The preceding chapters examined the social constructions of India, Sri Lanka, and the two Tamil nationalist movements as contested narratives. Throughout, the focus was trained on the interaction between ethnicity/nation, self/other, minority/majority, inside/outside, and various other antinomies in the production and reproduction of these selfsame identities. Rather than proceeding from a standpoint of epistemic realism (the notion that “the world comprises objects the existence of which is independent of ideas or beliefs about them” [Campbell 1992, 4]) oriented toward discoveringtheunderlying truth of the matter, I have argued for the following: a social and representational view of reality; the...

    • 5 Hegemony as Spectacle: The Theater of Postcolonial Politics
      (pp. 129-166)

      In the previous chapter, I argued that the primary means employed by India to exercise its dominance in South Asia and specifically in Sri Lanka was a twin-track policy that combined overt diplomatic pressure with covert destabilization. This twin-track policy came to be regarded as the optimal way of conducting regional relations due to its purported success in 1971, which culminated in the breakup of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. In this chapter, I suggest that although the twin tracks remained the core of Indian policy on Sri Lanka, under Rajiv Gandhi the quest for Indian hegemony in South...

    • 6 Narratives in Contention: Interpreting the Agreement of July 1987
      (pp. 167-206)

      In a piece that inaugurated the influential subaltern school of historiography, Ranajit Guha (1983) describes the British colonial archive on Indian peasant protest movements as the “prose of counter-insurgency.” Written from the perspective of officials saddled with the task of maintaining “law and order,” the archive eviscerates any agency or rationality on the part of the peasant as he fought against the multiple discriminations of colonial rule. Instead peasant rebellions are described through metaphors that see them as irrational, incomprehensible, and naturalistic: forest fires, rainstorms, raging rivers, earthquakes, and the like. Throughout, the colonial archive juxtaposes western rationality and respect...

    • 7 Postcolonial Aporias: Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Violence
      (pp. 207-228)

      If an aporia is defined as a problem or difficulty arising from an awareness of opposing or incompatible views on the same theoretic matter, it seems to me that we have reached an aporetic stage in the postcolonial quest for nation building. The very practices that produce the nation are coeval with its simultaneous fragmentation or unraveling. Although the supposedly progressive and universal idea of the nation is expected to eventually triumph over the reactionary and particularist idea denoted as ethnicity, a close look at the practices of nation building reveal that both nation and ethnicity share a logic that...

    • 8 Decolonizing the Future in South Asia
      (pp. 229-246)

      This book arose from a conviction that the present violence in South Asia, by both states and various insurgent movements, is unconscionable and has to be opposed. The commonly offeredsalvatore clausii(violence is an inevitable and indispensable part of nation building; once economic development reverses centuries of colonial distortion, such political problems will fall by the wayside; ethnic and other forms of false consciousness will one day be replaced by the singular pellucidity of class; and so on) have rung increasingly hollow, at least to my ears. The problems of nation building in South Asia are not so much...

  8. Appendix 1: List of Interviewees
    (pp. 247-248)
  9. Appendix 2: Text of the Indo–Sri Lanka Agreement to Establish Peace and Normalcy in Sri Lanka, Colombo, July 29, 1987
    (pp. 249-256)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 257-288)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-308)
  12. Index
    (pp. 309-316)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)