society Reviews

‘Brand New Nation’ review: Illusion of a makeover

Francis Fukuyama had professed that the post-war evolution of mankind will spur the ideological universalisation of liberal democracy. In saying so, the author of The End of History and the Last Man had assumed that the world of globalisation will subsume spiritual values and national identities. However, in her innovative analysis, Ravinder Kaur, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen, questions this assumption and argues instead that identity politics is being capitalised as a brand in recent times to gain greater economic value. India’s recent mega-publicity campaigns aimed at transforming the nation-state into an attractive investment destination has been one such utopian vision of a 21st century nation-building. It is built on the optimistic illusion that ‘good times’ are just around the corner, strengthened by ‘attention-grabbing spectacles that keep its consumers constantly hooked’.

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Thoughtful enquiry

Brand New Nation is a thoughtful enquiry into the capitalist project that has transformed the state into an authority that holds the power to brand, legislate and rearrange the nation as a market-ready investment enclosure. The populist nature of India’s new image building, driven by necessary infusion of global capital, has led to a plural society becoming polarised. That the populist image-building force has developed into an instrument of coercion isn’t the concern of the large majority. These seeming contradictions have come to characterise the image makeover.

It is indeed a seductively repackaged idea of image building wherein ancient cultures and modern ambitions have been made to co-exist in a democratic set-up that has majoritarian autocracy at the top. Not many seem to be complaining though as capitalist growth and hyper-nationalism have created social enclosures that have come to characterise the brand new nation. In an engaging multi-layered narrative, Kaur explains how seemingly contradictory positions cohere in rearranging the so-called liberal political order. Where else can one find identity economy and identity politics holding joint currency in creating a populist notion of good times that harbours seeds of sectarian violence triggered by an exclusionary economic growth agenda?


Much has been written in recent times on how India has expressed its ambitions of becoming a global power. However, the market logic of reconfiguring the nation-state as a cultural hub of profitable business enterprise of a specific kind provides fresh insights on the subject.

Global power ambitions

The book bridges the past and the present in proposing that the re-imagination of the country is rooted in the past. Packaged in glitzy words by Brand Modi, the younger generation has embraced this idea. “Put simply, Brand Modi is manufactured and marketed on a well-calibrated play of attention and diversion, of secrecy and excessive publicity that creates its own truth and ‘public secrets’ that people know not to know.” However, a culturally troublesome fact in the new brand is the political push for the pre-Islamic imagery of the country — tactically evicting minorities and the others (the Muslims, the Dalits) from the image frame. It is here that the new image holds potential to develop serious social fissures.

Can the country hold on to its new image beyond the current political dispensation that nurtures it? Can the brand new nation remain afloat in the permanent anticipation of good times? Can the state of optimism be sustained under falling economic growth? Unless we begin to make sense of the return of ethno-nationalism with a majoritarian impulse, argues Kaur, understanding the limitations of branding the nation-state will remain incomprehensible.

Economic challenges

Outwardly attractive it may seem, but the unabashed illiberal majoritarian politics taking over liberal democracy has yet to stand the test of time in addressing pressing economic challenges.

Brand New Nation makes interesting and absorbing reading but leaves the reader to draw his/her inferences on the transition that the nation-state is passing through. While the imagery of a brand new nation offers an optimistic sales pitch, the consequences of the socio-political experimentation that conveniently categorises those who doubt or raise troubling questions has yet to be fully assessed. Whether it strengthens the political leadership or will lead to its weakening will determine the endurance of the new image. Kaur deserves appreciation for taking the reader on a tour of the changing trajectory of re-building a nation-state.

Brand New Nation; Ravinder Kaur, Stanford University Press, ₹1,524.

The reviewer is an independent writer, researcher and academic.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 4:21:48 PM |

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