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In some respects, postcolonial theory is the most successful product of academia in recent times. Transcending its origins in universities and literary criticism, it has become a way of acknowledging the subjectivities of historically victimized communities in public policy and political activity. But with this success has come another trend. Political activity operates on the basis of clumsy victimhood analogies and reified communities, and much of its rhetoric is deliberately anti-rational, even reproducing and perpetuating the manufactured categories of racist and sectarian imaginations—even if the category is moved from a negative to a positive connotation. Meanwhile, there has been a marked rise in arguments that work at an ad hominem level—one can or cannot say certain things based on who one is.
Given that there is currently a strong right-wing assault on “postcolonial” ideas as allegedly ultra-left, even as right-wing public rhetoric reproduces some of the same themes, what is the future of anticolonialism in the face of postcolonialism? If we do not think in terms of some claim that connects us to people who are not “us,” do we have any claims upon anyone else?
Dr. Benjamin Zachariah is Senior Research Fellow at the DFG Leibniz Research Group “The Contemporary History of Historiography” at Trier University. He read history at Presidency College, Calcutta, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, and taught for several years at Sheffield University in the UK. His current research interests include historiography and historical theory, the movements of ideas in the twentieth century, international revolutionary networks, and global fascism. He is the author of Nehru (2004), Developing India: an Intellectual and Social History, c. 1930–1950 (2005; 2nd edn 2012), Playing the Nation Game: the Ambiguities of Nationalism in India (2011; 2nd edn 2016), and After the Last Post: the Lives of Indian Historiography in India (2019). He is co-editor of The Internationalist Moment: South Asia, Worlds and World Views 1917–1939 (2015).