Political Violence in South and Southeast Asia

Critical Perspectives

image of Political Violence in South and Southeast Asia
This volume explores the sources and manifestations of political violence in South and Southeast Asia and the myriad roles that it plays in everyday life. It considers and critiques the manner in which political violence is understood and constructed, and the common assumptions that prevail regarding the causes, victims and perpetrators of this violence. By focusing on the social and political context of these regions the volume presents a critical understanding of the nature of political violence and provides an alternative narrative to that found in mainstream analysis of ‘terrorism’. Political Violence in South and Southeast Asia brings together political scientists and anthropologists with intimate knowledge of the politics and society of these regions, from different academic backgrounds, who present unique perspectives on topics including assassinations, riots, state violence, the significance of borders, external influences and intervention, and rebellion.



Comparative assassinations: The changing moral economy of political killing in South Asia

Political assassinations are not what they used to be back in the old days in South Asia. On a certain gloss, this chapter may be regarded as a nostalgia piece on the altered character of political assassinations and a lament on the passing of a time when they were symbolic and discursive rather than instrumental and mute. I make this argument primarily by contrasting two political assassinations, that of Mohandas Gandhi by Nathuram Vinayak Godse in January 1948 and that of Rajiv Gandhi by Dhanu in May 1991, although I will in passing deal with some other assassinations as well. To adumbrate my argument at the outset, I suggest that the moral economy within which political assassinations are embedded in South Asia has undergone a profound change. In earlier times, a political assassination was carried out by an individual in the name of a larger cause or principle which was explicitly articulated before, during and especially after the act. There was an emphasis in the rhetoric that justified the killing of a leader on principles that were recognized, if not agreed with, by a politically attendant public. The assassin drew attention to the moral code that s/he was operating out of, and in a fundamental sense the corporeal elimination of the victim was seen as the act that inaugurated an animated debate about the desired direction or destiny of the polity. Such an assassination emerged out of an understanding of politics as ideally the responsible wielding of power in the interests of the nation or community or the common weal. It occurs because the leader is seen to have betrayed the national interest in some egregious manner and is therefore deserving of a violent death at the hands of a patriot. Such assassinations, in other words, were primarily communicative acts whose main purpose was suasion, with the killing itself seen as both symbolically justified and politically necessary to set the stage for a discursive engagement about the state of the body politic.


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