This chapter unfolds the market logic reconfiguring the nation-state into an enclosed commercial-cultural zone I call the brand new nation: the nation revitalized and renewed as a profitable business enterprise with claims to ownership over cultural property and natural resources within its territory. Erected on a double scaffolding of austere structural adjustment programs and lavish dreamworlds of the long-awaited good times, the brand new nation form increasingly mimics an income-generating asset that can be branded, valued, and ranked according to its capacity to yield profits. In turn, its profitability can be seen as the fast track to utopic futures. I delve into the modes of affective translation of the growth story into the great spectacle of good times via enchanting mass-publicity campaigns. This is the drawing board of futures on which the nation branders create visions of economic growth harnessed to hypernationalist dreams of a glorious ancient-modern future.
Chapter 2 looks at the moment of opening up of the economy and the affective-material entanglements, which produce what I call the economy of hope in the postcolony. Here I lay out the making of Brand India as a bureaucratic operation that sells hope and optimism in India's economic potential to global investors. The logic of Brand India is harnessed to a collective dream of realizing the nation's great destiny through economic success, its rejuvenation via capital infusion. I trace the long history of newness and the many incarnations of New India, of which the twenty-first-century investment destination model is the most recent iteration.
This chapter turns to the political-aesthetic project of remixing history to produce "smart images" of a distinct ancient-modern identity: a seductive polychromous package of global hypertechnology and ancient Hindu civilizational culture. The spectacular imagery of India produced in the Incredible India megacampaign is at the heart of this inquiry. Here we witness the production of a desirable photo album for New India, a series of self-portraits that show India the way it wants to be seen in the world. What at first seems like a low-stakes project of digital image enhancement to draw tourists and investors in turn reveals something more fundamental at work. It reveals the ongoing production of an authentic Indian identity seeped into Hindu civilizational culture, a contentious process that requires constant purging of all that is deemed foreign and a process that is forever at odds, if not in constant tension, with India's multicultural, secular history.
Chapter 4 addresses one of the most iconic, and perhaps the most contentious, image-making projects, called India Shining. It represents a distinct moment in India's postreform history when economic reforms were publicly scrutinized and the promise of progress and prosperity deemed empty, a mere mirage. Although this campaign was deemed a massive catastrophe in political terms given the electoral failure suffered by the ruling BJP government, I argue otherwise. I offer a counterintuitive reading of India Shining as a moment when economic reforms received mass publicity. India Shining produced eye-catching imagery of a modern secular nation that was enterprising and inclusive and that everyone could be a part of provided they signed on to the project of economic reforms. The campaign imagery unveiled the enchanting icons of prosperity that heralded good times long before Narendra Modi made acche din a winning election slogan.
This chapter unfolds in Davos at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. Here we see how India's "exotic" tradition adda, an assembly of people or a place of gathering, is performed to showcase the indigenous roots of a modern, democratic, investor-friendly India. The stars of this performance are the captains of industry, the Indian capitalists, who appear in a surprising role—as nationalist resistance to Western hegemony in the financial world. The performance of adda as an Indian mode of networking is often tightly scripted and censored, yet the democratic assembly of the Indian and global elite comes alive in surprising ways. This is where the state-capital relations in New India can be seen at work—entwined with one another but always ready to upend the balance of power. What remains consistent is the capital's penchant for strong leadership that can deliver economic growth, a political condition laced with unpredictable outcomes.
Chapter 6 traces the collective anxiety that led to the making of a new political subject in Indian politics: Aam aadmi, the common man. The Aam aadmi symbolized the middle-class disenchantment with the government, not just the government in power at that time but the domain of government as such. The government was seen an obstruction in the path of progress, a cesspool of inefficiency and corruption, more so given the identification of the government sector with caste-based affirmative policy that brought marginalized caste groups to the corridors of power. Dubbed the "second liberation," the highly mediatized popular mobilization of the Aam aadmi was staged to liberate the nation from corruption and, in doing so, unleash the entrepreneurial spirit constrained by a corrupt government. This is also the moment of rearrangement of the political landscape, a rightward coalition of the advocates of liberal economics and cultural nationalism.
I return here to the liberal/illiberal contradictions apparent in the brand new nation. Instead of seeing illiberalism as a mere aberration in the script of liberalism, I draw attention to the bonds of investment—bond in a double sense of affective ties and financial instruments—that lock cultural nationalism and capitalist growth in a state of mutual indebtedness. The liberal framework of unrestrained free markets inheres the potential to unleash what is now being called authoritarian populism—the strengthening of populist cultural nationalism led by strong majoritarian leaders in the shadow of free markets.