(Cross-posted on 3 Quarks Daily.)
A two-part review of The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson. Part 1 is here. The review appeared as "No Saints or Miracles" in the Himal Southasian print quarterly 'Are we sure about India?' (January 2013), and is reproduced with permission [this version is slightly modified].
Perhaps no single event has had a greater impact on the politics of modern South Asia than Partition, which created the nation-states of India and Pakistan, and later Bangladesh. The genocide it triggered forced the migration of 12-18 million people, the largest in world history, a million deaths, and a poisoned well of politics in the region. What were its causes? Which key players deserve more blame than others? Could it have been averted? Not only do perceptions differ sharply but most Partition narratives are steeped in nationalist posturing, demonization, and layers of taboo.
Last year, for instance, Jaswant Singh, a leader of the Indian right-wing party BJP and former defense and foreign minister of India, caused a storm with his biography of Jinnah. In it Singh assigned greater blame for Partition to Nehru and even praised Jinnah for his sundry qualities. No BJP official attended the book launch, after which Singh was summarily expelled from the BJP and his book banned in Gujarat. So while emotions still run high on the topic, it’s also true that at least among scholars today, Singh’s interpretation has gained ground. Yet few historians have offered a sharper account of it than Perry Anderson, who humanises many icons of Indian nationalism, restoring to them their rightful share of human follies.
One such icon is Nehru, a disciple of Gandhi with a crippling psychological dependence on him, but whose ‘intellectual development [was] not arrested by intense religious belief’. Nehru, a Brahmin, was born into a higher social class than Gandhi, a Bania. Nehru was not religious, had extramarital affairs, and ‘had acquired notions of independence and socialism Gandhi did not share’. That said, Nehru’s ‘advantages yielded less than might be thought’ and he ‘seems to have learned very little at Cambridge’, becoming ‘a competent orator’ but never acquiring ‘a modicum of literary taste.’ The Discovery of India, ‘a steam bath of Schwärmerei’ with a ‘Barbara Cartland streak’, reveals ‘not just Nehru’s lack of formal scholarship and addiction to romantic myth, but something deeper ... a capacity for self-deception with far-reaching political consequences.’ He combined qualities like ‘hard work, ambition, charm, some ruthlessness’ with ‘others that were developmentally ambiguous: petulance, violent outbursts of temper, vanity.’