South Asian Trajectories of the Modern State

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSGA1FC1154

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon semester, 1st Year

Course Coordinator and Team: Ekta Singh

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This is a survey course designed to introduce students to the theory and practice of the modern state by contextualizing the emergence and transformations of the states in South Asia. Rather than taking the category of ‘South Asia’ as a given, the course seeks to help students appreciate the contested nature of the category of ‘South Asia’. The course explores the political processes in South Asia by discussing the everyday operations, contestations and contradictions within state practices. The course assumes both state and society as dynamic entities rather than static. The main emphasis throughout the course is on understanding the specificity in the context of a dynamic local and global environment and the possibilities of variability in the attributes of the Modern State in different contexts.

Course Outcomes:

At the end of the course students will be able to-

  1. Appreciate possibilities of variability in the conception of modern state in different contexts.
  2. To understand political processes at work in South Asia so as to identify elements of the South Asian variant of the modern state.
  3. Establish the interconnectedness of global and local as it is played out in the context of South Asia
  4. To be able to see different shades of state-society interaction in perspective.
  5. Develop critical thinking and analytical skills

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. The Modern State: A Fluid Concept: The module introduces students to the concept of the ‘modern state’ (as understood in western political theory) and other key concepts associated with it like nation, sovereignty, legitimacy and power. Different perspectives and major approaches to the analysis of the state would also be touched upon. The students will be encouraged to understand the modern state as a ‘conceptual variable’ the attributes of which may differ in different (non-western) contexts.
  2. The Making of Modern South Asia: The module will introduce students to Modern South Asia by historicizing it. Contestation around the category of ‘South Asia’ will also be discussed.
  3. State Formation and Regime Types: The Postcolonial Condition: The module will acquaint students with the typology of various modern ‘state forms’ that have developed across the globe with detailed discussion on case studies drawn from the South Asian context. Mechanisms and forces shaping state formation will be discussed. Particular emphasis will be laid on appreciating the differential impact of the colonial legacy in shaping the form and capacity of the states in South Asia (given their varied internal dynamics).
  4. Transformations and Trends: Politics and Governance in South Asia: The transformations in the role and nature of state will be analyzed by embedding the analysis in the changed context of ‘governance’ framework wherein state, market and society interact and impinge on each other. The working of political processes and institutions will be studied in post-independent South Asia.
  5. Encountering the Everyday State: Ideas and Practices: The unit will familiarize students with the ideas and practices that inform the everyday functioning of the states in South Asia. Emphasizing state as a disaggregated entity and the interconnectedness of the global and the local, the unit will explore state practices anthropologically. Students will be encouraged to identify the glocalizing processes at work wherein sub-national (or local), national and supranational (or global) levels interact and impinge on each other in the working of the states in the region. The micropolitics of state making/operating will be explored through field visits in Delhi-police stations, schools, municipal offices. Students will be encouraged to bring their own experiences of encountering the state through examples like making of aadhaar, passport, and others like filing of income tax.
  6. State-Society Interface: Contestation and Resistance: The unit will grapple with the contested nature of state capacity and legitimacy in South Asia through a discussion of internal armed conflicts that have plagued the region and new patterns of mobilization and contestations that have emerged. The implications of the same for citizenship-rights, distributive justice and issues of political obligation will be dealt with.
  7. Crisis and Contradictions: Emerging Challenges: The unit is intended to encourage students to appreciate contradictory impulses of state power in globalising South Asia. It will engage with the state response (or lack of it) to the emerging social, economic, and environmental crises and how these developments pose challenges to the form and functioning of the states in South Asia. Issues like statelessness (Rohingya Muslims), surveillance (Aadhaar), extraction, violence and institutional erosion will be debated emphasizing the normative shifts.
  8. (Re) imagining the Modern State: The South Asian Variant: The final module will explore possibilities of rethinking and reimagining the modern state in the light of South Asian experience. Based on learning in the previous modules students will be able to see variability in the conceptual edifice of the modern state in non-western contexts. Thoughts of Periyar and Tagore will be invoked in their articulation of politics beyond the nation-form.

Assessment Details with weights:

  1. The first assessment will be a continuous assessment based on participation in class and engagement with the readings which will be gauged through surprise tests, quizzes and group discussions. (35%)
  2. The second assessment will involve an analytical assignment. (35%).
  3. The third assessment will consist of a final examination (30%).

Reading List:

  1. Andrew Heywood (1997). ‘The State’ in Politics, Palgrave Macmillan.
  2. John Hall (2015). ‘Varieties of State Experience’ in Stephen Leibfried (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Transformations of the State, Oxford University Press.
  3. Michael Mann (2015). ‘South Asia: a geographical, environmental and historiographical introduction’ in South Asia’s Modern History: Thematic Perspectives, Routledge.
  4. Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal (2004). ‘South Asian history: An introduction’ in Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political economy, Psychology Press.
  5. Aminah Mohammad Arif (2014). ‘Introduction Imaginations and Constructions of South Asia: An Enchanting Abstraction?’ South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (SAMAJ)
  6. Nandini Gooptu (2012). ‘The Political Legacy of Colonialism in South Asia’ in Douglas Peers and Nandini Gooptu (eds.) India and the British Empire (Oxford History of British Empire Companion Series).
  7. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (2016). ‘Introduction’ in The Colonial State: Theory and Practice, Primus Books.
  8. Ian Talbott (2010). ‘India and Pakistan’ in Paul Brass ed. Routledge Handbook of South Asian Politics: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka, and Nepal. Routledge.
  9. Nira Wickramasinghe (2010). ‘Srilanka’s Independence: Shadows over a Colonial Graft’ in Paul Brass ed. Routledge Handbook of South Asian Politics: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka, and Nepal. Routledge.
  10. Hamza Alavi (1973). ‘The State in Post-Colonial Societies—Pakistan and Bangladesh.’ in K. Gough and H.P. Sharma (eds.), Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia, New York.
  11. Harry Blair (2010). Party Overinstitutionalization, Contestation, and Democratic Degradation in Bangladesh’ in Paul Brass ed. Routledge Handbook of South Asian Politics.
  12. Neil DeVotta (2010). ‘Politics and Governance in Post-independence Sri-Lanka’ in Paul Brass ed. Routledge Handbook of South Asian Politics.
  13. Krishna Hachhethu and David Gellner (2010). ‘Nepal: Trajectories of Democracy and Restructuring of the State’ in Paul Brass ed. Routledge Handbook of South Asian Politics.
  14. Aradhana Sharma and Akhil Gupta (2006) ‘Globalization and Postcolonial States’, Current Anthropology, 47 (2), pp. 277-307.
  15. Sumanta Banerjee (2010). ‘Radical and Violent Political Movements’ in Paul Brass ed. Routledge Handbook of South Asian Politics.
  16. Sudipta Kaviraj (2005). ‘On the enchantment of the state: Indian thought on the role of the state in the narrative of modernity’ in European Journal of Sociology 46(02).
  17. M SS Pandian (2009). ‘Nation Impossible’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 44(10).


  1. Swaha Das (2008) ‘The State’, in R. Bhargava and A. Acharya (eds.) Political Theory: An Introduction. New Delhi: Pearson Longman.
  2. Nivedita Menon (2008). ‘Power’ in R. Bhargava and A. Acharya (eds.) Political Theory: An Introduction. New Delhi: Pearson Longman
  3. Kamala Visveswaran (2011). ‘Introduction: Reconceptualizing Nation and Region in Modern South Asia’ in Kamala Visveswaran ed. Perspectives on Modern South Asia: A Reader in Culture, History, and Representation, Wiley-Blackwell.
  4. Philip Oldenburg (2010). ‘Introduction: Why India is a democracy and Pakistan is not (yet?) a democracy’ in India, Pakistan, and Democracy: Solving the Puzzle of Divergent Paths, Routledge.
  5. Ayesha Jalal (199. ‘State formation and political processes in India and Pakistan, 1947-1971’ in Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia: A Comparative and Historical Perspective, Cambridge University Press.
  6. Subrata K. Mitra (2008) ed. ‘State and Institutions (Vol. I)’ in Politics of Modern South Asia Vol. I-V, Routledge.
  7. Fuller, Chris, and Bénéï, Véronique (2000). The Everyday State and Society in Modern India , New Delhi (Selected Chapters).
  8. Scott, James C. (199. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, New Haven.
  9. Niraja Gopal Jayal (2013). ‘Social Citizenship in Neoliberal Times’ in Citizenship and Its Discontents, Harvard University Press.
  10. Jugdep S. Chima (2015). Ethnic Subnationalist Insurgencies in South Asia: Identities, Interests and Challenges to State Authority, Routledge. (Selected Chapters)
  11. Martin Webb (2013). ‘Disciplining the everyday state and society? Anti-corruption and Right to Information activism in Delhi’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 47(3), p.363-399.