Political Tempest: 'Natural' Disasters and Politics in India and Bangladesh, 1876 & 1970

Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Subho Basu


Bakarganj, Cyclone Disaster, Environment, Representation of Disaster

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


“The Political Tempest: ‘Natural’ Disasters and Politics in India and Bangladesh, 1876&1970,” explores the human interventions and environmental vulnerability that resulted in transforming natural hazards, like cyclones, into ‘natural’ disaster. The dissertation questions the validity of the term natural through an examination of, both, the long term causes (land administration policies, state issued settlement patterns) and short-term causes (immediate governmental orders and relief measures). It argues, while hazards like cyclones are natural in origin, their effects depend on the socio-economic and political positioning of the human actors. In fact, disasters are often looked upon as ruptures that challenge the basic foundations of societies and thus, act as the catalyst for change.

Using two case studies, the Great Backurgunge Cyclone of 1876 and the Bhola Cyclone of 1970, in the sea facing deltaic district of Bakarganj (present day Barisal and Bhola in Bangladesh) it explores the strained relationship between the state and the various political actors after these disasters. While the historical circumstances leading to these disasters differ, as do the results emanating from them, the dissertation argues that these extreme events played a key role in the subsequent political events (the Imperial Assemblage of 1877 and the first General Elections in Pakistan in 1970). Disasters, such as these, provided an opportunity to evaluate the functioning of the state in this peripheral region, exposed not only the lack of intervention on the part of the (colonial and post-colonial) state that resulted in escalating the effects but it also questions the status of the colonial subject and the post-colonial citizen within the framework of the British colonial empire and the post-colonial Pakistani nation-state.


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