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‘The People of India’ — new book traces grassroots political actors, how they shape New India

Published by Penguin India, the anthology of essays curated by social scientists Ravinder Kaur and Nayanika Mathur, will be released on 15 November on ThePrint's Softcover.

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New Delhi: What is new about the recently-published “The People of India” – a title used at least three times since the middle of 19th Century to describe the subcontinent’s people, mostly their ethnography?

The new book’s lure lies in its secondary title “New Indian Politics in the 21st Century”.

A lot of emphasis has been given on the word “new” in this anthology of essays put together by social scientists Ravinder Kaur and Nayanika Mathur. Published by Penguin, “The People of India” will be released on 15 November on Softcover, ThePrint’s online venue to launch non-fiction books.

According to the authors, “The function of the adjective ‘new’ is to suggest a temporal condition of transition, a moment when something is in the course of shifting its form and being. This book is about the political form of newness, or specifically, the people who forge and inhabit the still-unfolding new in New India.”

The book looks at the people who have significantly influenced Indian politics today. It mentions and places emphasis on street politics, and such movements of resistance, a characteristic that has been prominent all over the world of late. The book further elaborates how the politics of protest have laid the foundation for conflicts between the state and its people.

In the background of these themes, the book traces stories of various men and women who with their unique personalities comprise the people of New India, in order to define the country’s politics today. By focussing on these distinctive individuals, the book is also an attempt to locate what India in the 75th year of her Independence has become today.

The “new” in the book further elaborates on these various grassroots political actors in India, and is a “modest opening up of a conversation” that the authors hope can be taken forward in the future.

Partha Chatterjee, professor emeritus of Anthropology, Columbia University says of the book: “The activist, the outsider, the devotee, the mob, antipolitical politics, bureaucratic subservience, a docile media, and (let me add) bulldozer raj, beneficiary citizenship — there have been many remarkable novelties in Indian politics in recent years. This splendid volume examines these novelties in a deeply historical and broadly global frame of the emergence of the people of India.”

Niraja Gopal Jayal, Avantha Chair at King’s India Institute, King’s College London, says the book is “an indispensable guide to the political lexicon of the New India”.

She adds: “The essays in this imaginatively conceived volume offer compelling portraits of ‘the people’ at the heart of a new democratic politics — from the kisan and the bhakt to the AamAadmi and the Old Woman.”

Curator of this anthology Ravinder Kaur is an associate professor of Modern South Asian Studies and Director of the Centre of Global South Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Most of her research is on the processes of capitalist transformations in 21st century India, which was also covered in her other book, “Brand New Nation”.

The other editor, Nayanika Mathur, is an associate professor of Anthropology and Director of the South Asian Studies Programme at the University of Oxford. Her research interests lie in the climate crisis and the Himalayas.

Also read: Survival on the world’s highest battlefield – New book tells story of Army at Siachen Glacier


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