I recently drew attention to a remarkable set of essays on Indian history by Perry Anderson, which brim with sharp and novel insights. They have provoked a strong response from the Indian intelligentsia, both in support and in protest. The essays have just been published in India as "The Indian Ideology" available from Three Essays Collective. Here is the book description (I've just ordered my copy):
Today, the Indian state claims to embody the values of a stable political democracy, a harmonious territorial unity, and a steadfast religious impartiality. Even many of those critical of the inequalities of Indian society underwrite such claims. But how far do they correspond to the realities of the Union? If they do not do so, is that simply because of the fate of circumstance, or the recent misconduct of its rulers?
The Indian Ideology suggests that the roots of the current ills of the Republic go much deeper, historically. They lie, it argues, in the way the struggle for independence culminated in the transfer of power from British rule to Congress in a divided subcontinent, not least in the roles played by Gandhi as the great architect of the movement, and Nehru as his appointed successor, in the catastrophe of Partition. Only a honest reckoning with that disaster, Perry Anderson argues, offers an understanding of what has gone wrong with the Republic since Independence.
The ‘Idea of India’, widely diffused not only in the official establishment, but more broadly in mainstream intellectual life, side-steps or suppresses many of these uncomfortable realities, past and present. For its own reasons, much of the left has yet to challenge the upshot: what has come to be the neo-Nehruvian consensus of the time. The Indian Ideology, revisiting the events of over a century in the light of how millions of Indians fare in the Republic today, suggests another way of looking at the country. Marx, urging his contemporaries to ‘face with sober senses their real conditions of life’, furnishes an example of how that might be done.
An interview with Anderson has appeared in Outlook India. Asked to summarize the book, this is what he said:
You could say that, very roughly, it advances five main arguments that run counter to conventional wisdom in India today. Firstly, that the idea of a subcontinental unity stretching back six thousand years is a myth. Secondly, that Gandhi’s injection of religion into the national movement was ultimately a disaster for it. Thirdly, that primary responsibility for Partition lay not with the Raj, but Congress. Fourthly, that Nehru’s legacy to Republic was far more ambiguous than his admirers will admit. Lastly, that Indian democracy is not contradicted by caste inequality, but rather enabled by it. This is a crude summary. Obviously, in each case, much more is said than this.