An original, even startling, analysis of India’s contemporary history
Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India
Harvard University Press, Rs 995, Pp 368
Mani Shankar Aiyar
Ananya Vajpeyi’s Righteous Republic is quite simply the most important interpretation of the evolution of India’s contemporary nationhood since Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India, and a useful antidote to the revisionist Imperialism of rising British star-historians like Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson, as well as the silly, stray thoughts of Meghnad Desai’s The Rediscovery of India, the axing of the modern Indian state on the mission civilisatrice of Zareer Masani’s recent biography of Lord Macaulay, and even the purely political story recounted in BR Nanda’s The Making of the Indian Nation and Ramachandra Guha’s many works. Fluently written, cogent in argument, studded with penetrating insights, telling aphorisms, with complete mastery of her material, consistently brilliant expression and exposition, this young philosopher-historian takes her definitive place as a commentator and synthesiser of the often varied and contradictory approaches to the idea of India in the life, thought and works of her five (somewhat arbitrarily chosen) protagonists: Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar, and the two Tagores—Rabindranath and Abanindranath.
She is nothing if not original, even startling, in showing how these diverse and even contrary streams of reflection and experience mingled to give India not only a sense of her “self” (What is India?) but also of the “sovereignty” she was striving for (What is India to make of its independence once achieved?)—the swa (or “self”) in “Swaraj” giving meaning and content to the struggle for raj (or national sovereignty). She shows how in the midst of the quest to wrest freedom, these freedom fighters concerned themselves not only with making the new Indian republic free, independent and democratic, but also to give it a moral compass in being “Righteous” by drawing on both the rich treasury of past Indian tradition and modern global thought (at the time, largely western). “I try”, she writes, “to tell the story of the search for the self in modern India...that raj would have to be found in the future, that swa