Dr. Anandita Bajpai


Materialising Visibility, Preparing Recognition: The ‘cultural’ politics of GDR-India relations, 1952–1972


The Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic was offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized by the Indi­an gov­ern­ment in 1972. The trade rep­re­sen­ta­tions estab­lished in 1956, how­ev­er, became the ‘offi­cial mouth­piece’ of the GDR in India. Con­tacts between actors from both the sides can thus be traced much before offi­cial recog­ni­tion was mate­ri­alised. This project calls for a his­tor­i­cal analy­sis of encoun­ters, entan­gle­ments and exchanges between uni­ver­si­ty actors (from Berlin and New Del­hi), which are cat­e­gorised under the larg­er umbrel­la theme of ‘cul­tur­al’ rela­tions (kul­turelle Beziehun­gen or nich­staatliche Beziehun­gen) with­in the archi­tec­ture of Ger­man archives. It aims to present a com­pre­hen­sive his­to­ry of the entan­gle­ments that exist­ed among uni­ver­si­ty intel­lec­tu­als and how these exchanges informed life-tra­jec­to­ries that criss-crossed between the Indol­o­gy and South Asian Stud­ies Depart­ment at the Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­sität zu Berlin and its part­ner insti­tu­tions like the Jawa­har­lal Nehru Uni­ver­si­ty and the Del­hi Uni­ver­si­ty in Del­hi.

The main ques­tion posed by the project is:

How were these rela­tions between uni­ver­si­ty actors from India and the GDR effect­ed by the fact that the GDR was for­mal­ly not recog­nised as a sov­er­eign state by the gov­ern­ment of India until 1972, and how did they in turn impact the ques­tion of recog­ni­tion?

A work­ing hypoth­e­sis is that an imme­di­ate con­cern was the ques­tion of vis­i­bil­i­ty. How to make the GDR known to the peo­ple of India, so that they could push for it to be recog­nised offi­cial­ly? Promi­nent exam­ples of the same are how Bertolt Brecht was pop­u­larised in India as the ‘face of the GDR’ and how the Indo-GDR Friend­ship soci­eties toiled to ren­der the GDR vis­i­ble for Indi­ans.

Tra­di­tions of intel­lec­tu­al inter­ac­tions between East Berlin and New Del­hi in the post sec­ond world war, Cold War years, remain large­ly under­stud­ied espe­cial­ly from a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. His­tori­ciz­ing the entan­gled biogra­phies of these intel­lec­tu­als can have a unique added val­ue as it will:

1. Assist in re-inter­pret­ing the cat­e­go­ry of ‘cul­tur­al rela­tions’ (kul­turelle Beziehun­gen or nicht-Staatliche Beziehun­gen) with­in the inter­nal archi­tec­ture of Berlin’s archives by elu­ci­dat­ing how the spheres of intel­lec­tu­al exchange(s), cul­tur­al pol­i­tics and state pol­i­tics often merged and have impact­ed the lives of actors deemed to be out­side the ambit of for­mal­ized state pol­i­tics.

2. Inter­na­tion­alise the audi­ence that engages with the entan­gled his­to­ries of uni­ver­si­ty intel­lec­tu­als from the GDR and India. Indian/international audi­ences at large have hith­er­to had rel­a­tive­ly min­i­mal access to oral his­tor­i­cal accounts and micro his­to­ries of such exchanges due to lin­guis­tic lim­i­ta­tions. The result­ing man­u­script of this project will be in Eng­lish (fol­lowed by an even­tu­al Ger­man trans­la­tion) in order to inter­na­tion­alise the per­ceived audi­ence of the work.

3. Give due weight to oral his­to­ry. This can be an invalu­able source, hith­er­to unex­plored, for trac­ing the his­to­ry of inter­con­nec­tions between the two aca­d­e­m­ic worlds in focus. Most of the East Berlin intel­lec­tu­als lost their posi­tions after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), when com­mis­sions from West Ger­many decid­ed their future. The project aims to resi­t­u­ate their his­tor­i­cal pres­ence in archives by mak­ing a crit­i­cal inter­ven­tion through oral his­to­ry. The sur­plus of this project is that it is a his­tor­i­cal analy­sis of entan­gle­ments not just of peo­ple but also an analy­sis of entan­gle­ments of acad­e­mia, cul­ture and pol­i­tics in a very par­tic­u­lar his­tor­i­cal / insti­tu­tion­al moment (Cold War, nation build­ing process­es in nascent states like the FRG, India and the GDR, the unrec­og­nized sta­tus of the GDR).

4. Present the Indi­an aca­d­e­mics as active mutu­al co-shapers of these exchanges and does not reduce them to pas­sive receivers of cold war pol­i­tics, which was being staged in numer­ous the­atres in Europe.