Monuments as Markers of Minority Identity

Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India:Monuments, Memory, Contestation by Hilal Ahmed, Delhi: Routledge, 2014; pp 344, Rs 850.

Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of cultural capital or our understanding of symbolic capital is relevant not just in the domain of cultural theory but is equally germane to any discussion on politics. This book under review elaborates on the constitution and subsequent condensation of such symbolic forms of politics where iconic historical monuments are invested with political capital with far-reaching consequences in Indian minority politics. There is a paucity of original scholarship on the post-1947 trajectories of Muslim politics in India and this book attempts to fill that gap.

Stereotypes, including in academics, suggest that there is only one form of Muslim politics in India, one that hinges on the dichotomy between Western modernisation and orthodox Islam. The internal complexities of Muslim politics and the evolution of varied forms of such politics contingent upon pluralistic needs and demands of various Muslim groups are completely ignored. Muslims are viewed as a monolith and sweeping generalities are used to interpret various kinds of Muslim politics. Intellectual energies are “devoted to reproduce the existing intellectual and political divide between secularism and communalism” (p 2). This work “looks at how the collective political existence of India’s Muslims is conceptualised as a political community in variety of ways” and examines “the structure of postcolonial Muslim political discourse—an intellectual process by which specific notions of Muslim identity are produced and meanings of political acts are determined” (p 3).

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