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Imagining the Global Nation

Time and Hegemony

Indias entry into the global arena opens up immense imaginative possibilities for the
new elite imagination of a deterritorialised global nation, which is in turn is predicated upon
a fuller incorporation into the global economy. This incorporation leads to a rapid
disjunction of temporal experience with the nation-space in such a way that it
breaks irrevocably with the nation-building framework and in the process unhinges the
everyday popular from nation-time.

t was in the mid-1980s that Rajiv Gandhi announced his

determination to take India into the 21st century. As he and
his entourage, known then as the computer boys, took over
power, following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the slogan
acquired an urgency not heard or seen before. We had missed
out on the industrial revolution, Rajiv proclaimed, but could not
afford to miss out on this one the microchip and communications
revolution. The slogan was not a simple clarion call to the we,
the people of India, to gird up their loins and get ready to take
the big plunge. It was also a call to the state itself, and as the
computer boys got ready to reconstitute it as such, far-reaching
changes were proposed in the institutional structures that had been
built painstakingly during the Nehruvian era. Rajiv understood
that going into the 21st century was not simply a matter of
moving through the tunnel of time from one year into another;
it was not as if one fine day, we would wake up to find ourselves
in the new century. Going there entailed reconstituting ourselves, transforming our mode/s of being and recasting our
institutional structures in ways fundamentally different from what
they were in that present of the mid-1980s. We all know very
well today what these institutional changes were and how they
both reflected as well as reconstituted a different, new ethos. They
entailed a complete overhaul of the stolid bureaucratic machinery
of the developmental state, dismantling its big white elephant,
namely the public sector, spurring economic activity by freeing
entrepreneurshipfrom the shackles of the licence-permit raj,
opening out its overseas trade relations, and such other measures.
They also meant liberalising the labour market and withdrawal
of the state from social sectors.
Today Rajiv and his computer boys might appear almost like
visionaries. In comparison, his detractors and opponents seem
like so many dinosaurs who stalked the India of the 1970s and
1980s.1 And these dinosaurs were everywhere in the state
elite, among trade unions and among the left opposition.
Computerisation and automation were seen as the big villains
that would eat up jobs and make us fall further in the scale of
poverty and development. Whether this has actually happened
or not is for the economists to debate, now that a reasonable time
has elapsed for us to make a realistic assessment. What interests
us here is something else. There are three issues that I wish to
pursue further in the section that follows.
First, it is the notion of time as full of a specific meaning that
is fascinating here. Going to the 21st century in this notion was/


is not simply the sign of a movement from a point, say, 1999

to a point 2000, in the endless duration of time; it is a sign of
a state-of-affairs yet to come a not-yet, to use Ernest Blochs
expression. Arriving in the 21st century meant arriving into a
utopian future. Yet, that future was something that Rajiv and
his boys had already seen. They had spent a large part of their
lives in lands where that future was actually the present. And
they realised that that was our present-to-be, or at least, that they
were determined to make it ours.
This brings us to the second point that I wish to pursue here:
this vision of the present-to-be was available only to this new
breed of leaders, cut off as they were from any connection with
the old idea of nationalism and nationhood. For those who had
been brought up in the old nationalist traditions, the idea of selfreliance, with the commanding heights of the economy vested
in the public sector and with a partial delinking from the pace
of the world economy, in the modality of import-substituting
industrialisation, was an article of faith. That old nationalism,
we know, saw a long story of betrayal and brain drain in the
continuous movement of our best minds to greener pastures
abroad. This is a tradition that extended from the time of Dadabhai
Naoroji, into the post-independence Nehruvian era. Of course,
there is no seamless journey of this imagination, for as has been
pointed out, the Gandhian-nationalist imagination did see overseas Indians as resources for the nationalist struggle. It also saw
them as a part of the future nation, though it was not exactly
clear as to what kind of relation they would have with it when
India became independent. It was the Nehruvian moment, however, that really inaugurated the era of the bounded territorial
nation.2 As Sinha-Kerkhoff and Bal point out, citing Bhikhu
Parekh and M C Lall, Nehru believed that expatriate Indians
had forfeited their Indian citizenship and identity by moving
abroad.3 The new breed of Rajivian leaders, despite their
complete ignorance of politics and ground realities here, inaugurated a new idea of nationhood one that was territorially
unbounded and global. This nation was everywhere, in all parts
of the world. In the vision of this global nation, those who went
away were no longer to be seen as traitors. They were the
resources that the nation, now preparing to move into the brave
new world, could profitably utilise. They had state-of-the-art
skills, knowledge and capital to invest in the new areas that needed
to be rapidly developed. Enter, therefore, the ubiquitous figure
of the NRI the privileged citizen of this global nation. Those

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who lived here, lived in another time. They could not understand
the meaning of the Brave New World. It was the NRI who had
seen the future where it was present; it was s/he therefore, who
could become the engine that would power our journey into
that world. It was this figure, therefore, that was to become the
mobile ambassador of the new global nation.4 Special privileges
and dual citizenship for this new figure began to be contemplated.
Though this has not become a reality yet, deputy prime minister
L K Advani recently assured NRIs in a meeting of the Indian
community in Chicago that the bill, already presented in parliament, granting them dual citizenship would become law by
the end of 2003.5
It is, of course, important to keep in mind the fact that one
of the challenges to the Nehruvian dispensation in this respect
came from the Hindu right proponents of cultural nationalism.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad was in fact, formed way back in
the 1960s to organise Hindus on a global scale. In fact, as early
as during the tenure of the Janata government, when Atal Behari
Vajpayee was the external affairs minister, he had declared that
India would never disown overseas Indians, or fail to appreciate
their loyalty to the motherland.6 Nevertheless, it is equally
significant that both the VHPs activities as well as the BJPs
official position remained relatively insignificant till the advent
of the global era, when immense imaginative possibilities finally
opened out for the carving out of such an affiliative relationship
with what have now come to be described as People of Indian
Origin. A series of initiatives by the institutions of the Indian
state has been witness to this trend. The Central Board of Secondary
Education has set up an international cell specially created
to allow NRIs to establish functional linkages with their native
language and culture and it already runs 102 schools in 19
countries.7 This step was apparently taken in response to concerns of Non-Resident Indians about a gradual distancing of their
children from the motherland.8 Attracting NRI earnings and
capital has now become a significant part of the overall strategy
for economic development. Apart from many attempts to woo
NRI capital, the instance of the Kerala government setting up
an NRI cooperative bank advertised as the first anywhere in
the country is a case in point. This bank will cater exclusively
to the needs of the NRIs. It is equally significant that such gestures
are not one-sided any longer. NRIs have reciprocated with equal
vigour and concern for the motherland that they left behind
decades ago. Consider the following: The Banga Sammelan of
Boston, which has been in existence for over 22 years, decided
for its annual event in 2001, to look beyond its usual work of
organising cultural events to the development of West Bengal.
To this end, to kick start the next renaissance, as the organisers
put it, it proposed to set up a venture capital fund of US $10
million, dedicated to projects back home.9 Or consider the more
recent decision of the UK-based consultancy firm HandsOn
Technology and Engineering to set aside US $10 million for the
education business in India apart from opening a software
and hardware centre here.10
Let us however return to the Rajiv Gandhi era. It could in fact
be argued that it was precisely their ignorance of the ground
realities of India that gave this new breed of leaders their strength.
They could move ahead without bothering too much about the
niceties that held back the old lot who were increasingly beginning to look like creatures from another world. The present
of these new leaders and that of the vast majority of those who
lived in the land mass called India were two different presents.

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Regis Debray once said of the Latin American revolutionaries

of the 1960s and 1970s, that they lived in the time of world
revolution by theoretical anticipation, in contradistinction to the
masses who lived by the time of their area/region/country. Here,
in a different context, we see the same disjunction between the
time of the global, represented by Rajiv and his entourage, and
the time of everyday post-colonial existence.
Into the new millennium, the present of the Rajivian leaders
has become the present of an increasingly large number of urban
middle classes. They too now live the time of the global, if not
entirely, at least imaginatively.11 As cities like Mumbai,
Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai rapidly move
into this new network of the global economy, large sections of
their middle classes begin to live in a present that is far, far
removed from that of the mofussil and the countryside. In other
words, we are witnessing a rapid disjunction of temporal experience within the national space. Big cities and metropolises are
being reconfigured, dislocated from their national location and
inserted into the grid of the global economy. The relationship
of these cities to their national location, which once made them
hospitable sites for the poorer sections who came there in search
of livelihoods, has now been completely transformed. These cities
are now moving on to the fast track. They cannot now afford
the slothful, slow and meandering pace that marks the lives
of poorer and subaltern sections of the populations. Roads in these
metropolises are now completely colonised by fast running
automobiles. Empty spaces are now used not for housing subaltern populations but for parking cars. In the new spatial
reconfiguration of these cities, there is no room for rickshaws,
cycles or pedestrians on the roads. We have yet to see serious
studies of how this new colonisation of urban space is taking
place, with the expanding middle classes, fired with the imagination of a global standard of living within these spaces, taking
over every inch of land. And this happens in the same way
everywhere whether it is Congress-ruled Delhi, Left Front-ruled
Kolkata or TDP-ruled Hyderabad. It is almost as if those who
do not have the means to align themselves with the time of the
global need not live in the city anymore. This disjunction of
temporal experience therefore has to do fundamentally with
access to wealth and power. The time of the global belongs, in
a sense, to the powerful. The utopia of the 21st century that Rajiv
wanted to usher in was the utopia of the rich and the beautiful;
for the large mass of those who cannot align themselves with
the time of the global, this utopia remains a more complicated
matter. I say complicated matter and not necessarily a nightmare, because there are actually layers of differential experiences that we have not yet begun to examine.
This leads me to my third question: what does it mean to
reconstitute ourselves, to make ourselves worthy of the 21st
century? Why, in other words, should we think of those who
want/ed to live life in their old familiar ways, necessarily as
dinosaurs? What authorises us to characterise those who wished
to merely protect their livelihoods or jobs as out of tune with
the times? The question needs to be dealt with at two levels:
the strategic and the moral-ethical. It is one thing to argue that
to be able to survive in the brave new world of global capitalism,
we must change our ways. This is certainly not a trivial question
and undoubtedly it has been debated even within the Left for
over three decades now, that is, long before India embarked on
its sojourn of globalisation. At least from the early 1970s, within
the CPI(M) for example, this was debated in the context of


introduction of new technology and modernisation of the textile

and jute industries. There were powerful, if minority, voices that
argued against the dominant strand that stood opposed to the
introduction of all new technology and automation of the kind
that was being proposed in those days. The then general secretary
of the CPI(M), P Sundarayya, was among those minority leaders
who argued against the majority, led by B T Ranadive, that the
Left and the trade union movement could not afford to adopt
a negative attitude towards new technology and automation.12
It is, of course, true that Sundarayyas argument drew on the
more doctrinaire Marxist claim that new technology represents
the onward march of productive forces and that, therefore, it
was wrong to oppose the introduction of new technology as that
would amount to opposing the forces of history itself. Nevertheless, we can see in such debates the existence of a real aporia
a predicament. On the one hand, there is the anxiety to defend
the livelihoods of the workers and on the other, the anxiety of
being left behind by history.
I shall return to this question shortly, but for now let us note
that it is one thing to argue that adapting ourselves to the demands
of new technologies is a matter of survival strategies, of negotiating the new, but it is entirely another to suggest that this
position is necessarily morally and ethically desirable. To some
of the advocates of the new dispensation this is a moral-ethical
question as well. Their argument is predicated upon a critique
of the old Nehruvian socialist regime, which they see as a regime
that prevented growth, which alone, they claim, can guarantee
a better life to the poorer sections outside the privileged elite
employed in the public sector. To many of the more sophisticated
advocates of the new regime, state-run and state-subsidised higher
education, its universal public distribution system and such
other features, merely end up subsidising the rich, preventing
redistribution in favour of the poor which they argue can happen
only through the free play of the invisible hand of the market.
And we may note in passing that there may be some substance
to this claim; that we have indeed left behind us the era of artificial
shortages of food and other daily necessities that characterised
much of the 1960s and 1970s. The removal of artificial constraints
on the market has certainly made some positive impact in these
respects. To the extent, therefore, that the claim is predicated
on the idea of the greater good of the maximum number, there
is a moral charge in this critique of the old and the advocacy
of the new economic regime. The answer to this kind of an
argument of course cannot be made on purely ideological grounds,
as much anti-globalisation rhetoric continuously seems to be
doing. This is a serious argument that needs to be answered at
both levels the moral/ethical and the empirical. It certainly has
to be actually assessed whether such claims are really matched
on the ground, and we need to be able to distinguish between
effects that are directly linked to globalisation and others that
could have an independent logic to them. For instance, industrial
closures and job losses due to long-term changes in the nature
of market demand (due to changed preferences or tastes) and
changes in technology are perennial features of capitalism and
need not have any specific and necessary relationship to
globalisation as such. In some cases, they might have a more
direct and clear-cut connection. It is only on the basis of actual
empirical evidence that some of the claims about the greater
good can really be tested.
However, no amount of facts and figures, even if they show
an improvement of ordinary life in terms of poverty, health,


literacy and life expectancy, can really answer the ethical question
that we posed earlier: what authorises us to denigrate certain
modes of living and being in the world as illegitimate? That is
the ethical question that we need to ask. The question may become
sharper if it is posed in the context of non-modern modes of being
say those of the displaced tribal communities rather than in
the context of the already modern sector, namely, industry. It
is evident that even the most sophisticated arguments in support
of the new dispensation become meaningful only if we believe
that, historically, certain modes of being are destined to become
obsolete and we attach, in the first place, a negative moral charge
to obsolescence itself. In other words, it can be justified only
on the basis of some notion of historical inevitability or the
onward march of history. I suggest that this moral claim can
be contested only by disinterring the implicit notion of temporality and the logic of historical obsolescence embedded in it.
I will argue that this obsolescence is externally imposed on such
modes of being, through an insertion into a larger global network
of power and economy. That is to say, it is the rapid changes
talking place elsewhere that now begin to determine my own
modes of being, in ways that my refusal to change in accordance
with those impositions can be easily construed as backward,
and hence morally undesirable. In the section that follows, I will
therefore discuss the question of historical time, within which,
I suggest, we need to situate our post-colonial predicament of
globalisation today.

Semantics of Historical Time13

One of the critical assumptions that underlies the notion of time
that Rajiv Gandhi expressed so well, we now know from the work
of scholars who have excavated its depths, is that of a singular
linearity. Time is one and it is irreversible; it always moves
forward, such that at any given point, there can be only one present
that is the privileged present that exists in the arena of the most
advanced social forms. That is, the present only exists in the
arena of the global. All other presents are remnants of an earlier
epoch the past. Far removed as he may have been from Nehrus
vision of the world and Indias place in it, Rajiv shared one thing
with him: his notion of time. Nehru, we might recall, wrote in
his Discovery of India of this relationship between India and the
world, thus:
We in India do not have to go abroad in search of the past and
the distant. We have them here in abundance. If we go to foreign
countries, it is in search of the present. That search is necessary,
for isolation from it means backwardness and decay. The world
of Emersons time has changed and old barriers are breaking down;
life becomes more international (emphasis added).14

It could hardly be expressed better. The Present is Elsewhere;

we live in the Past. As old barriers break down and life becomes
more international, we all become One entity, with a single past
and a single present. With this becoming international, we lose
our own sense of Self. We begin to see our present as a remnant
of some bygone era. For both Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi, this was
however not a matter of regret, it was the way to be modern
and more, it was to be celebrated. We know from the work of
scholars of time that this is a state that comes into being with
the new consciousness of time that modernity inaugurates. The
idea of a single linear and irreversible time, wedded firmly to
the modern notion of Progress, is what creates this anxiety of
being left behind, of becoming obsolete. Colonialism was the

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first moment of that becoming international. It inserted us into

a whole new grid where we were no longer to be self-determining
subjects. We were to be determined and judged by where we
stood on the continuum of the new homogenous empty time
of modernity, to use Walter Benjamins well known characterisation of this new conception.
The modality through which this happens, Reinhart Koselleck
tells us, is through the invention in 18th century Europe, of the
concept of world-history. This world-history was seen (and still
is) as a single totality that is governed by a single logic and
temporality. Almost imperceptibly, through this conceptual device,
the colonies became the past of this new entity called worldhistory. World-history was now made of different existences all
mapped on to the new framework of simultaneity, the co-presence
of the past and the present. In Kosellecks words: this
contemporaneity of the noncontemporaneous was initially a
result of overseas expansion (read colonialism) and soon became
a basic framework for the progressive construction of the growing
unity of world history.15 Elsewhere, commenting on the new
experience of historical time, and with reference to a text written
in 1775, Koselleck refers to the history of Hindustan, which
had first been introduced into a world-historical context by the
English twenty years earlier.16 Note that this explicitly refers
to the colonisation of India. It was colonialism that made us
people without history, in Hegels amazing phrase part of
world history. Benedict Anderson puts it graphically. He refers
to the discovery, in the 16th century, of grandiose civilisations
like those of China, Japan, southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, or those of Aztec Mexico and Incan Peru which suggested an irremediable human pluralism. How could the European deal with these different entities whose genealogies
lay outside of, and were unassimilable to, Eden? Andersons
suggestion, in passing, is that only homogeneous, empty time
offered them accommodation: That is, by making possible the
idea that others too could exist alongside us (the Europeans),
in the same time.17 This charity extended by modernitys homogeneous, empty time had, in the event many other consequences
that we have only begun to realise in recent decades.
This then was the package. World history, progress, development, now placed all societies in a single linear continuum. This
notion of time has been seriously questioned in recent decades
and though this is not the place to go into a disquisition on the
philosophy of time, we need to pursue the implications of this
idea a little more since it is crucial to the argument of this essay.
Let us ask what Anderson means, for instance, when he says that
only homogeneous empty time could offer accommodation to
these other, non-European societies. At one level, we could argue
that time is an empty container through which all societies
necessarily move. To that extent, it could be said that we all do
live in the same time. We could then argue, with Johannes Fabian,
that it is not that we really exist in different times but that western
man and anthropology as a discipline (for that is the locus from
where Fabian speaks), deny coevalness to non-western
societies.18 In other words, we could paraphrase Fabian and say
that western anthropology by assigning non-western societies the
status of a past, thus refuses to accept that there could be different
presents existing in the same time. Both Anderson and Fabian
work within the framework of homogeneous empty time, but
where Anderson sees it offering accommodation to non-western
societies, Fabian sees a denial of coevalness or what he calls
allochronism. What emerges from this discussion nonetheless,

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January 3, 2004

is that the new conception of time becomes a mode of incorporation of these non-western societies into world history. Yet,
it is clear that whether we see it as offering accommodation
or denying coevalness, the terms of this incorporation are set
by what is considered to be the present of world-history, which
is none other than the present of the west. This incorporation
cannot but be then, simultaneously, the subordination of these
societies to the logic of western modernity. Time becomes the
trope of domination and power.
There could be another way of looking at the question of time.
We can understand this by attempting to unravel the meaning
of one prevalent everyday use of the word time. When we say
for instance, that this is my time, or you are wasting my time,
we are actually pointing towards a very different idea of time.
Such a notion of time has an explicit relationship with notions
of selfhood. These notions, we might also note, could extend
beyond individual selves: we could and do in fact talk of the
nations precious time when civics textbooks and moral lectures
of the nations leaders talk of the virtues of industriousness and
speak against laziness and work-shirking. We as citizens are
then called upon not to waste the nations precious time and
contribute to the task of nation-building. We can also think of
something like office-time, that is, time when employees or
workers are supposed to be doing only official work. In all these
usages, I, nation or office are thought to have acquired a
personality, that is, a consciousness of being one entity. Notice
also that this consciousness of being one entity is irrevocably
linked to the idea of a common project or future. On the other
hand, it would make no sense to speak of something like Delhis
time, or Mumbais time, for these are not entities that can be
said to have acquired the identity of a subject; they therefore
represent a purely spatial designation. The point is not that cities
per se cannot talk of their time, but that in order to do so, they
must emerge as an entity with a sense of self. In this way of
looking at the idea of time, we are referring to a subjectivity and
we are referring to a specific past, indeed a specific present and
a specific future project. Such a notion of time is filled in with
the history of the subjects doing, its activity through a past, a
present and a future. Such a notion of time clearly runs against
any notion of time as an empty container.19
Let us look at the question from another angle. What do we
mean when we say that time is irreversible? If we go by the
understanding of time as an empty container, then a moments
reflection will show that it is not time that is irreversible but what
happens in it. Take out the content of time, take out the different
ways in which we mark its existence with dates, calendars and
events, and every hour, every day and night is like any other
endlessly repetitive and, one might say, circular.20 We are then
led to the following two possibilities: either time is a mere
container without content, in which case it is not irreversible,
but endlessly repetitive. Or time is but the content of time, it
is but the combination of the three modalities of the past, present
and future, in which case there are as many times as there are
subjectivities or subject-positions whose time it is. For our
purposes, when we deal with time, we are actually dealing with
this latter, historical time. In that sense, we could say that time
is the time of the subjects doing. Let us, here bracket the other
philosophical question of subjectivity that has marked philosophical debates in the West for a long time as that is not
immediately relevant for our purposes. Let us, however, note that
if we can no longer talk of history or world history in the singular,


but only of histories in the plural, then historical time too cannot
be anymore seen as a single Time. In other words, such a plurality
of historical times always resists the hegemonic, homogeneous
empty time of the global modern, even though it arises explicitly
within that modern discourse of subjectivity and history.
We could also put the question in Manuel Castells rendering
of the Leibnizian notion of time. Leibniz, in his well known
formulation, had argued that time is but the order of sequential
existences; it is not some thing which is independent of existent
things.21 Castells pushes the point further in a Leibnizian direction:
If time is the order of succession of things, then without things
there would be no time.22 If we were to pursue this line of thought
from our own vantage point, we can begin to see that it is only by
positing a singular world history, with a single series of successions can the idea of a single time be maintained. The moment
we begin to see histories in the plural, rather than a single history
with a plurality of successions, we would have to start seeing
time too as plural. The plurality or heterogeneity of time then
becomes not an objective datum but is intertwined with notions
of selfhood and emergence of newer and different histories. Time
in this sense also becomes experiential. Witness, for example,
the emergence of dalit or womens histories in the recent past
which seek to fill in the period of nationalism with different
histories of doing, marked by different events from those of
nationalist narratives.23
Seen from this angle, the tendency to decree as illegitimate
and obsolete all that is not in sync with the present, is to endorse
the founding violence of the modern world.24 This way of looking
at modernity in relation to different temporalities, I suggest then,
alerts us to the continuing presence of this violence in the global
and imposes upon critical or post-modernists the responsibility
to think the present in radically different ways. It is at this point
that we enter a really difficult terrain. For a critique of modern
time-consciousness does not, however, open for us any possibility
of a return to traditional or non-modern modes of being. In the
first place, from a critical or post-modern perspective, this return
is never possible. One of the critical contributions of what is
loosely termed postmodernism is its constant reminder that the
past is never ever accessible to us in any unmediated form, that
we are all always already constituted by the present.25 The
very instability of the subject-position denoted by the we, for
instance, places us in extremely complicated positions vis-vis the past and the present, for we never really occupy singular
historical times. We are never really ever only woman or dalit;
worker or Indian; Bengali or Muslim. Derrida will of
course argue that the very conception of time belongs to the
domain of metaphysics, and represents the domination of
presence.26 He will find the entire philosophical tradition grappling with the problem of time, running from Aristotle through
Hegel to Heidegger, as an attempt to deal with an aporia. For,
to him presence itself involves a meaning deferred which he
attempts to capture in his term differance. As he would put it,
even though we might begin, strategically, from the place and
the time in which we are, in the last analysis, this move is not
justifiable, since it is only on the basis of differance and its history
that we can even begin to know who we are and where we are
and what the limits of an era might be.27 This reference to
Derrida is important for two reasons. First, in attempting to
disinter the modern conception of time as empty and homogeneous, we must resist the temptation to posit the plurality and
heterogeneity as given and fixed. Notions of subjectivity the


we must not be seen as defining a self-evident and self-present

entity. This interrogation of the modern notion of time should
rather be seen as a move that helps open out a space of thinking
the subjectivity of the other in this context, we can use the
Derridean impulse to think the being of those relegated to the
status of the wests pasts as always open subjectivities.
Second, as Derrida would propose, we must think this subjectivity, this being, without nostalgia, that is, outside of the myth
of a purely maternal or paternal language, a lost native country
of thought.28 In invoking this Derridean gesture, then, we can
find a way of escaping the predicament of an endless search for
an authentic past. Apart, therefore, from the fact of the wellknown oppressions and violences of the past, which in many cases
might make such a desire for return undesirable, Derrida advances
more profound reasons why nostalgia may not be the best way
to deal with this predicament. He then suggests that we affirm
this condition but in the Nietzschean sense: in the sense in which
Nietzsche puts affirmation into play, in a certain laughter and
a certain step of the dance.29 A critique of modern time-consciousness then imposes upon us the responsibility to think
against the hegemonic modern, but at the same time, away from
nostalgia for lost origins. It calls upon us to think of different
ways of being modern.
In our discussion so far, I have used the term we in a generic
sense, to allude to all that is non-west. On occasion, when I
have spoken of India, it could be easily be read to allude to a
national we/us. This is precisely where things really start
becoming difficult even from the purely empirical vantage point
of globalisation, for this national is no longer the sole ground
from where subjectivities are articulated in this era. In fact, the
shift from the Nehruvian regime to the global, signals at one level,
the emergence of many different subjectivities, which attempt
to articulate very different relations with the global, without the
mediation of the national. It is interesting that many of these
different responses in ordinary life exhibit a more functional
(though not necessarily instrumental) relationship to the epochal
changes that come either in the realm of ideas and institutions,
or through the introduction of new technologies. Nostalgia for
the lost world actually emerges as the preserve of the intelligentsia
or the elite, which is inevitably bound up with their search for
authenticity and purity. Ordinary life, in contrast, merely appropriates what it needs for its being. In doing so, it undoubtedly
imbues these elements with its own meanings. Not surprisingly
then, popular responses often define a different relationship to
the global uncontaminated by ideology, we may say.30 These

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Economic and Political Weekly

January 3, 2004

kind of responses stand in sharp contrast to the elite imagination

of the new global nation inaugurated by Rajiv Gandhi and given
a fresh impetus by the Hindu right.

From Underdevelopment to Globalisation

Whereas at the centre, growth is development that is, it has an
integrating effect in the periphery growth is not development,
for its effect is to disarticulate. Samir Amin31

Discussions in economics and the social sciences are generally

concerned with two different registers of time, namely, the longterm and the short-term. The long-term as we all know, deals
with larger, structural changes, while the short-term addresses
the here-and-now. Being concerned with macro-structural
questions, the long-term becomes the time of the totality the
nation-state for example. The here-and-now, on the other hand,
raises many other questions, for the everyday popular is most
concerned with living day-to-day. The sheer pressures of survival
for most people are constitutive of their everyday existence. It is
here therefore that even the totality is forced to confront the immediacy of the everyday in formulating its short-term strategies.
In most post-colonial societies like India, the long-term has been
understood as the long-term of national development, whose aim
was to catch up with the west. In the past, the categories that were
deployed to conceptually apprehend this long-term were the well
known, academically popular ones like retarded development or
retarded capitalism, underdevelopment. As the quote from
Samir Amin in the epigraph to this section puts it, the main
problem was that while economic growth in the centre, that is the
west, led to integration, in the peripheries it led to disarticulation.
Amin was a major theorist of the time thinking about economic
relations between the west and the ex-colonial world. In his understanding this differential impact of economic growth upon the
economies of these two broad categories had to do with something
else: economies in the peripheries were not homogeneous enough,
they still had large sectors of the so-called traditional (low productivity sector, in his language) sector within them. His proposal therefore was to direct the choice of development so as
to create a homogeneous national economy. This was to be done,
he further argued, through the progressive transference of the
working population from the low-productivity sectors to those
with high productivity, and in particular from agricultureto
modern industry.32 Translated into the terms of our discussion
so far, this means that the entire nation was not yet constituted
into a singular temporality, containing vast areas that still represented the past, whose rhythms and pace were out of tune with the
needs of the pace of the national economy that was running to
catch up with the west. In order to be able to create this homogeneity then, the national economies had to have control over
the pace of their own development. If they were to be continually
forced to alter and re-alter their priorities in order to suit the
demands of the world economy, they would never be able to
achieve the desired homogeneity. With some variations, Amins
position can be considered representative of the dominant modes
of thinking at that time, even if Marxist economists had their own
critiques of the development path adopted by the newly independent capitalist economies. As Prabhat Patnaik put it, For the
countries of the capitalist third world, the prospects of overcoming retardation depend upon the vigour and pace of their capitalist
development. The pace of capitalist development depends upon
the degree to which and the rapidity with which an accelerated

Economic and Political Weekly

January 3, 2004

tempo of accumulation in one sector of the economy stimulates

a similar accumulation in other sectors.33 The problem, as Patnaik
saw it, was that this was not so in these peripheral capitalist economies in other words, they lacked the homogeneity that Amin
talks of. We can see here that the defining feature of these
discourses the problem of achieving a certain homogeneity
arose on the conception of the primacy of the nation-state as the
site of growth, development and emancipation.
In a manner of speaking, this phase of national development
and self-reliance sought to merge the two registers: the shortterm was subsumed into the long-term goal of the nations
development. This was done through two related ways. First, the
logic of import-substituting industrialisation and a regime of
protections, sought to partially insulate the domestic economy
from the pace and pressures of development of the world economy
and in that sense regain control over its own time. An essential
condition, Patnaik argued, for such capitalist development was
the building up of a relatively autonomous base for the domestic
capitalist class which a closer integration with the world capitalist system prevented.34 If colonialism meant the introduction
of the non-west into universal empty time, the moment of national
liberation introduced a partial rupture, carving out a different pace
and rhythm for the nation-state. The second way, elaborated in
relation to the nations citizens, was that of containing and
positively discouraging current consumption, forcing savings for
purposes of national capital formation, and thus hinging the shortterm of the popular everyday on to the long-term goal of national
development. The Nehru-Mahalanobis model in India was no
exception to this and was predicated upon a focus on capital goods
industries that discouraged current consumption.35 This strategy
required the production of a citizen who felt a sense of responsibility towards the task of nation-building and was therefore
prepared to forego or defer her current desires. An extreme form
of this model was of course post-revolution China, where for
decades the entire Chinese people including the Chinese Communist Party leadership lived a spartan life wearing coarse blue
cloth and living on cabbage soup. As Satish Deshpande put it,
the Nehru era therefore valorised the figure of the producerpatriot (much like the Stakhanovite worker of Stalinist Soviet
Union).36 Production was the key link to self-reliance. And for
that, current consumption had to be kept at the bare minimum.
All this changed radically with globalisation.
On the first register of the long-term, the so-called retreat of the
state has opened up the domestic elite to the time of the global,
where it lives, at least imaginatively. Its existence is unencumbered by any deferral of current desire for the greater national
good. In fact, at this level, its consumption activities are precisely
what are now believed to spur the growth of the economy, for this
growth is no longer predicated, as it once was, on the development
of the capital goods sector at the cost of current consumption.37
The very precondition of this elites alignment with global time is
its partaking of the global consumption utopia. On the other hand,
alongside this, the time of the everyday, popular which always
operates on the short-term register too has come unhinged from
the time of the nation in equally interesting ways. The explosion
of consumerist desire is not just something that marks the lives
of the elite; it is constitutive of the popular everyday now. So
if the elite has far greater access, at least in the urban areas, even
the relatively poorer sections have greater access to cheap foreign
goods. The mobile phone revolution is a case in point, which
has made a significant impact upon the lives of the self-employed


poor.38 New studies are emerging which show how consumption

practices are changing rapidly even among urban subaltern
populations.39 In a manner of speaking then, the current regime
of globalisation does the reverse of what the Nehruvian
regime did: it collapses the first register into the second. There
is no long term any longer. Every desire is to be gratified in the
here and now.
This is the crucial change, experientially speaking. And this
change, as Zygmunt Bauman tells us, has larger coordinates. To
put it in his words: If the savings book was the epitome of modern
life, the credit card is the paradigm of the postmodern one.40
If deferral of desire was the primary mode of modernity and
national capitalist development in the peripheries, it is instant
gratification that marks the global era of postmodernity. We might
recall that the advent of the 1990s introduced us to this new era
in unprecedented ways. If in an earlier era, middle class families
had to put in their life savings for something like building a house,
the 1990s made available a whole range of things from houses
to consumer durables like colour TVs and VCRs, on credit and
hire-purchase. Easy availability of credit brought the dream of
a good life close to realisation. It transformed the ethic of
middle class existence who had considered it immoral to live
beyond their means, by borrowing money.41 The new ethic of
consumption-through-credit is an instantiation of the refusal to
defer current gratification.
I have also argued elsewhere that the refusal to defer current
gratification is more than a consumption-related phenomenon.
It has become the mode of political assertion of the past two
decades or more. Feminism was probably the first moment of
this new mode of politics, which argued that issues of gender
discrimination could not be deferred to any unknown future, to
be tackled when more pressing problems had been dealt with.
Today, dalit politics too is predicated upon a refusal to either
defer or to entrust the redressal of their issues to any other
representative agency like the nation-state and its promise of
universal citizenship. In a significant sense, this refusal to defer
present gratification is related to what has been referred to by
Jean-Francois Lyotard as the incredulity towards metanarratives.42 The promise of the older metanarratives of emancipation no longer carries conviction precisely because it has no
place for the everyday, here-and-now. It must always ask for
sacrifice in the present, for some future gratification. In that sense,
even the economic model of import-substitution was indeed
predicated on the same logic as the grand narratives of Marxism
and universal citizenship of the bourgeois nation-state. In that
sense then, both the move away from the productivist imagination
of modernity to the consumption utopia of the global postmodern,
and the emergence of new kinds of political assertions, represent
developments along a common grid.
To conclude then, Indias entry into the global arena, at one level,
opens up immense imaginative possibilities for the new elite
imagination of a deterritorialised global nation, which is in turn
predicated upon a fuller incorporation into the global economy.
This incorporation leads to a rapid disjunction of temporal experience with the nation-space in such a way that breaks irrevocably
with the nation-building framework and in the process unhinges
the everyday popular too from nation-time. This happens through
the continuation, in an accelerated form, of the logic of subordination of non-western societies, primarily through the workings
of the modern conception of homogeneous empty time. The
disjunction of temporal experience within the nation-space, I have


argued, provides us with a vantage point from where this modern

conception of time as a trope for hegemony and power can be
disinterred through the elaboration of a different notion of time,
that is, time as a trope for subjectivity. Such a notion of time,
I have argued, allows us to interrogate the global from outside
its hegemonic framework, without necessarily falling into a
nostalgic desire for return to an authentic past. EPW
Address for correspondence:

[I owe the expression global nation to a conversation with Ravi Vasudevan.
I thank Denis Vidal for some very useful and incisive comments on an earlier
draft. I also thank colleagues in the CSDS faculty, whose comments on some
of the ideas presented here, at a faculty seminar, were extremely useful in
thinking through some of the questions related to time. Nivedita Menon read
through successive drafts of the paper and all the ideas contained in it have
developed in continuous conversation with her. I alone remain responsible
for any errors that may remain.]
1 Here I do not intend to offer an evaluation of the Rajiv era in its entirety.
Clearly, this era had its own deep and excruciating problems and the Rajiv
regime was marked not just by a vision of the future but also an unprecedented
populism. This populism was reflected, on the one hand, by what economists
call financial profligacy, and on the other, in the regimes pandering to
all kinds of sectarian, chauvinist and communal elements. But that is
another story and does not concern us here. The completely maverick



The Malcolm and Elizabeth Adiseshiah Trust has instituted
the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for contributions to
Development Studies. The award, to be given annually, will
be made to a scholar, ordinarily not over 50 years of age.
The scholar should have made significant contributions through
published work to the understanding of Indias development
problems. Indian and foreign scholars working in India and
Indian scholars at present engaged in development studies
outside India are eligible to be considered.
The award will consist of a citation and a cash prize of
Rs. 1 lakh.
A three-member jury of eminent scholars will select the
awardee. The name of the awardee will be announced in
April 2004 and the presentation will take place in September
2004. The awardee will be invited to deliver the Malcolm
Adiseshiah Memorial Lecture.
The Madras Institute of Development Studies will administer
the award.
Scholars in the field may make nominations with a short
resume of the nominees work including a list of important
publications. They should be sent before 1 March 2004 to:

The Director,
Madras Institute of Development Studies,
79, Second Main Road, Gandhinagar,
Adyar, Chennai - 600 020.

Economic and Political Weekly

January 3, 2004






and reckless style of these leaders undoubtedly had a serious element

of upstartishness about it. It has therefore been rightly pointed out that
the serious situation in which the subsequent governments, especially the
V P Singh-led National Front government, found themselves with regard
to their depleted treasury, was indeed an avoidable situation created by
this leadership. It is this situation, we might recall, that led to the
government going in for the second IMF loan that finally inaugurated
the era of structural adjustment and the rapid global integration of the
Indian economy. Many like the former CEO of Reckitt and Coleman,
Gurcharan Das, consider this phase, under Narasimha Raos stewardship,
to have inaugurated Indias second freedom struggle from the licencepermit raj, that is. However, given the way in which economies like that
of China too eventually had to fall in line with the new global economic
regime is a pointer to the fact that India may not have found it possible
to ward off the changes for too long.
For a fascinating discussion of the changes in nationalist perception of
such overseas Indians, see Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff and Ellen Bal
(2003), Eternal Call of the Ganga Reconnecting with People of Indian
Origin in Surinam, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XXXVIII,
No 38, Septmber 20. Sinha-Kerkhoff and Bal, however, see the Gandhian
imagination as more than just terrritory, where India was represented
as a deterritorialised state. It seems to me however that this is too hasty
a conclusion as in those times, there were hardly any resources to think
of the nation as anything but territorially bounded. This way of looking
at that moment might be simply projecting a contemporary imagination
on to the nationalist framework. It might be more fruitful to suspend any
quick conclusion on this question and try to really figure out how the
nationalists thought about the nation. It seems to me that it was because
the nation was not yet a tangible entity, fixed in time and place, that these
different imaginations could play themselves out, without being bound
by the immediate need to fix its possible meanings. Also important to
note here is the fact that the Gandhian imagination was more immediately
concerned not with brain drain and voluntary immigration, but with
indentured labourers, who had not really gone away out of any choice.
Ibid, p 4010.
Sinha-Kerkhoff and Bal actually cite government sources where the
rationale for idea of organising the first-ever Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in
January 2003, was stated as, among other things, to use them (people
of Indian origin) as a bridge to strengthen relationships between India
and the host countries in this age of globalisation, Ibid, p 4008.
Dual citizenship to become law by year-end The Times of India Online,
(PTI release dated June 13, 2003),
Cited in Sinha-Kerkhoff and Bal, p 4010.
CBSE courses keep NRIs in touch with home, Deccan Herald News
Service, New Delhi, June 28,
Boston Initiative for Bengal Rennaissance, The Telegraph, Calcutta,
December 15, 2000.
See report by GK Rao.
Regis Debrays theoretical anticipation, we can see, is actually another
name for a revolutionary imagination, a way of aligning the self with
another history.
For an insight into this debate, see P Sundarayya (1991), My Resignation,
India Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi.
This phrase is taken from the subtitle of Reinhart Kosellecks well known
work, see Koselleck (1985).
Jawaharlal Nehru, (1946/82) The Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru
Memorial Fund and Oxford University Press, New Delhi, p 565.
Reinhart Koselleck (1985), Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical
Time, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England,
p 256.
Ibid p 141.
Benedict Anderson (1991) Imagined Communities, Verso, London and
New York, pp 22-31.
See Johannes Fabian (1983) Time and the Other How Anthropology
Makes Its Object, Columbia University Press, New York.
Nevertheless, this notion of time too, is situated squarely within the idea
of an empty, homogeneous time. It should not be confused with the
fullness of time that non-modern conceptions operate with where time

Economic and Political Weekly

January 3, 2004













is inseparable from the mythical existence of the community. However,

we cannot go into a more detailed discussion of this aspect here.
Here we are not discussing the physicists notion of time though even
there, time begins to be marked through notions of change, e g, the
expansion of the universe. In other words, here too, it is the content of
time that is crucial in dismantling the Newtonian notion of time as an
empty container. For a fascinating discussion see Stephen Hawking, A
Brief History of Time.
For an interesting discussion see, Charles M. Sherover (1975), The Human
Experience of Time The Development of Its Philosophic Meaning, New
York University Press, US. For this reference see p 106.
Manuel Castells (2001), The Rise of Network Society, Vol 1 of The
Information Age, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford and Massachusetts,
p 494.
I have discussed the emergence of such different histories at greater length
in my PhD thesis. See Aditya Nigam (2001), Secularism and the Indian
Nation: A Study of the Rise of Fragmented Identities Since the 1980s,
unpublished thesis, submitted to the Centre for Political Studies, School
of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
It should be stated here however, that to acknowledge this founding
moment of violence in modernity is not to thereby say that modernity
is an unmitigated evil, as much of the dichotomised thinking of progressives/
modernists seems to believe.
This is clearly an oversimplification of the problem, as we shall see in
the brief discussion that follows.
Jacques Derrida (1986) Margins of Philosophy, The Harvester Press,
Great Britain, p 63.
Ibid, p 7.
Ibid, p 27.
Ibid, p 27.
This is not the place to go into an elaborate discussion of the everyday,
ordinary life. The distinction here between the elite and the popular
everyday is large suggestive and should not be read as a valorisation or
romanticisation of the everyday.
Samir Amin (1974) Accumulation on a World Scale A Critique of the
Theory of Underdevelopment, Monthly Review Press, London, p 18.
Amin (1974), op cit, p 28.
Prabhat Patnaik (1995) Whatever Happened to Imperialism And Other
Essays, Tulika, New Delhi, p 66.
Ibid, p 68. This is a position that was quite widely held, though here
I am citing only one of the economists speaking from the import-substitution
side of the debate against the more marginal votaries of the export-led
growth voices of that time.
Ibid. See especially the essay Problems of Financing Public Investment
in India, pp 124-25.
Satish Deshpande (2003), Contemporary India A Sociological View,
Viking, New Delhi. See especially the essay, The Nation as Imagined
Economy, pp 63 and 69-71.
Though there was never any serious restriction on consumption by the
wealthy even in those times, their access to imported goods was seriously
hampered by their unavailability in the domestic market and very high
customs duties on their purchase from abroad.
Take for instance the scrap-dealer (kabariwala) in Saket, who upon
acquiring a mobile phone, printed a leaflet giving his contact details and
distributed it in middle class colonies. This leaflet of course presented
his acquisition of a mobile phone as something that would ease middle
class life they simply had to call him and their problem would be taken
care of. Similar is the case of three vegetable vendors in Patparganj, who
now have a card with their number printed on it and announcing a free
home delivery service. We could actually go on multiplying the instances
but these are being mentioned as illustrations.
The work done in recent months by the Sarai programme in the CSDS,
Delhi illustrates this. See also Ravi Sundarams essay in this collection.
Zygmunt Bauman (1995), Life in Fragments Essays in Postmodern
Morality, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK and Cambridge, US, p 5.
To people of my parents generation this still remains a scandal. My own
parents have been a living example of the older ethic of saving and
For a detailed discussion, see Aditya Nigam (2001) Beyond the Nationalist
Imaginary: Dalit Politics in a Global Era, Indian Journal of Political
Science, Vol 62, No 3, September 2001.