Book Review: David N. Gellner, ed., Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia

Published date01 December 2014
Date01 December 2014
AuthorNasreen Chowdhory
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 247
Studies in Indian Politics, 2, 2 (2014): 243–257
generation, the emergency generation and the new political generation, the last one being affected by the
processes of globalization and new forms of changes in society.
The essays by Jayati Srivastava and Pralay Kanungo locate the relationship between globalization
and political parties. For Srivastava, it is important to analyze the interface between political parties
and social movements under conditions of neoliberal globalization in India, whereas for Kanungo, it is
important to see how national and regional Indian political parties have reached out to the Indian dias-
pora, which also has been actively participating in homeland politics over the years, working closely
with the political parties (p. 492). The final essay of the volume, on politics, parties and the new media
technology, by Rahul Tripathy, is immensely useful in showing the different ways in which new forms
of technology have affected the domains of the politics in the 2009 elections. Indeed, the 2014 elections
have shown us the power of technological interventions and emerging new forms of political spaces and
narratives which greatly influenced the voters’ decisions.
Asha Sarangi
Centre for Political Studies
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
David N. Gellner, ed., Borderland Lives in Northern South Asia. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan. 2014.
322 pages. ` 875.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014551880
This book explores state–border–people dynamics of the borderlands of the northern part of
India using deep ethnography of the states along ‘border areas’. The various chapters in the book draw
from the literature on states such as the ‘idea of the state’ (Phillip Abrams) and people’s ‘everyday’ expe-
riences of the state, which Gellner points out to be overlapping and contentious. Scholarly works by
James Scott and Willem van Schendal, who contributes the Afterword of this volume, reverberate in
various chapters of the book. Following van Schendal, Scott specifically focuses on the upland area of
Southeast Asia, ‘zones of resistance’ to state domination, as ‘Zomia’. Scott asserts that in Zomia’s inter-
stitial borderlands it is the governments from the lowland that have often struggled to exert full control;
in other words he prioritizes the state-evading practices and state-repelling spaces of Zomia that are
beyond the control of government.
The book examines states that have experienced colonialism in Asia, including, Southeast Asia as
well as Northern South Asia. State formation in postcolonial politics had a different trajectory and for
that reason the focus on borders is very timely. The idea of the state is reinforced via border-making, that
is, borders that engage, interact with extreme coercive power and yet constitute an integral part of the
territorialization process of the state.
The most contested instrument of state power in the post-colonial project is the border, an important
marker of state-making. A border tends to become the natural site of state control, with people residing
along this line having the experience of the everyday effect of state policies, through police and other
officials of the administration. Borders can be maintained only through intense bureaucratic effort, the
legal presence of policing that deliberately includes the resident and excludes those who do not ‘belong’.
In his introduction to the volume, Gellner provides an interesting four-part model of state–people

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