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Centre for South Asian Studies: Events


Lineages of Populism: Outsider Politics and the Long 1970s in India

Lineages of Populism: Outsider Politics and the Long 1970s in India
Speaker: Sirupa Roy # University of Gottingen
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Date and Time
21st Mar 2019 16:00 - 21st Mar 2019 17:30
6th floor staff room, Chrystal Macmillan Building


This essay is about populism’s backstory. Departing from the exceptionalist and presentist  narratives about the populist zeitgeist, I argue that the surge of populist outrage politics in India today is a legacy and modulation of an older project of democratic critique and renewal that has enjoyed political, cultural, and institutional legitimacy for the past forty years. The specific lineage that I trace is that of outsider politics, the distinctive institutional and normative formation that took root in the 1970s in and around the period of the Indian emergency.  Scholarship on populism has focused mostly on the people/elite opposition as the defining feature of populist discourse. But the idea of the political outsider as the agent of populist redemption, the normative justification of populist movements and leaders in terms of their distinctive outsider status, and the location of representational authority in some putative pure space outside politics, are all equally foundational to the populist imagination.

My main focus is the project of “democratic restoration” that was carried out in the immediate aftermath of the Indian emergency by state institutions like the Shah Commission of Inquiry and the Supreme Court, and by a range of non-state actors such as media, civil society, and social movements, often acting together in networked formations. Departing from prevailing views of the emergency as a temporary aberration in Indian politics, I show how these post-emergency efforts to restore democracy in fact carried forward ideas and practices of outsider politics and populist logics of extra-electoral representation that were consolidated during the emergency itself.  

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