Revisitations: The Long 1990s: Panel Discussion

Panel discussion on ‘Revisitations: The Long 1990s’. The panelists included Ravi Sundaram, M. Madhava Prasad, Prathama Banerjee, Hilal Ahmed and Ashish Rajadhyaksha. 


India's Nineties - at once close and impossibly distant - pose a curious and complicated challenge. Key political concepts of democracy, freedom and publicness, appear in a ghostly afterlife as a hugely expanded set of Constitutional Rights go alongside an equally massive digital expansion of state infrastructure. The digital delivery of democratic rights, alongside the delivery of 'targeted' state benefit, create a new staging ground for a state apparatus challenged by globalisation, nationalism, and the environment, producing pathologies of terror alongside technological dreams, all amid the enduring lifeworld of hunger for vast populations in India.

Key intellectual debates in this time accompany significant art interventions, and several political and legal battles reveal new meanings when viewed in hindsight. A curation of 1990s essays and images, The Hunger of the Republic: Our Present in Retrospect edited by Ashish Rajadhyaksha (Tulika 2021) re-presents a powerful intellectual surplus of that time. Here, the effects of the long 1990s push well into current debates on democracy, politics and aesthetics. In what way do the debates of the 1990s frame a retrospective present?  What were the insights and limits of important ideas of the 1990s?

It includes the well-known essays Rajni Kothari’s Democracy: In Search of a Theory (2005), Sudipta Kaviraj’s The Imaginary Institution of India (1992), Gyanendra Pandey’s In Defence of the Fragment (1991), Utsa Patnaik’s The Republic of Hunger (2004), Hamza Alavi’s India and the Colonial Mode of Production (1975), K. Balagopal’s Rich Peasant, Poor Peasant (1988), Geeta Kapur’s Contemporary Cultural Practice: Some Polemical Categories (1989), Ravi Sundaram’s Beyond the Nationalist Panopticon: The Experience of Cyberpublics in India (1996), M. Madhavas Prasad’s The Republic of Babel (2011), M.S.S. Pandian’s Void and Memory: Story of a Statue (2004), Shuddhabrata Sengupta’s Media Trials and Courtroom Tribulations (2005), Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s Hindu Death and Our Death (1996), Veena Das’ Suffering, Legitimacy and Healing (1995), Teesta Setalvad’s Being Their Target (2007), Sharmila Rege’s Interrogating the Thesis of ‘Irrational Deification’ (2008), Sunil Mohan and Rumi Harish’s Violence (2013) and Anita Dube’s Questions and Dialogue (1987).

Ravi Sundaram is Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

M. Madhava Prasad is Professor of cultural studies (retired), English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.

Prathama Banerjee is Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Hilal Ahmed is Associate Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Ashish Rajadhyaksha is an Indian film scholar, art curator and cultural theorist.

Friday, 18 November 2022, 6 pm, Seminar Room and Zoom