The historiography of modern India is largely a pageant of presumed virtues: harmonious territorial unity, religious impartiality, the miraculous survival of electoral norms in the world’s most populous democracy. Even critics of Indian society still underwrite such claims. But how well does the “Idea of India” correspond to the realities of the Union?
In an iconoclastic intervention, Marxist historian Perry Anderson provides an unforgettable reading of the Subcontinent’s passage through Independence and the catastrophe of Partition, the idiosyncratic and corrosive vanities of Gandhi and Nehru, and the close interrelationship of Indian democracy and caste inequality.
The Indian Ideology caused uproar on first publication in 2012, not least for breaking with euphemisms for Delhi’s occupation of Kashmir. This new, expanded edition includes the author’s reply to his critics, an interview with the Indian weekly Outlook, and a postscript on India under the rule of Narendra Modi.
“Anderson is unanswerable when he points to a consistent Indian pattern of silence, evasion, and distortion about India’s military occupation of Kashmir and its attendant regime of extrajudicial execution, torture, and detention. Many readers will be struck by the evidence Anderson adduces of the insidious dominance of upper-caste Hindus in every realm of social and political life and by his portrait of the primordial politics of caste and religion, which have enshrined a patrimonial state built on nepotism and dynasty worship. Admirers of Gandhi and Nehru will encounter many awkward facts, especially regarding their roles in the partition of India, a calamity usually blamed on British colonial administrators and Indian Muslim leaders.”
“Exposes some substantial faultlines in recent Indian writing about India and with some justice question the emerging concensus around India’s democratic successes”
“Anderson’s essays are well sourced and artfully crafted, offering a comprehensive history of India’s ideology”
“He is right to ridicule the theological casuistry of much writing on Gandhi which strives, unconvincingly, to prettify the Mahatma’s bewildering inconsistencies and ingrained conservatism. On target, too, is his censure of smug bromides about the wholly tolerant and unifying nature of Hinduism. And his scepticism towards India’s claim to be a postcolonial democracy uniquely untainted by repression, emergency powers and other dark arts of territorial “unity” is also timely.”
“Perry Anderson’s new book, The Indian Ideology, is a magnificent achievement. It is a product of his ability, near-unique in today’s world of ideas, to distill a country’s history and politics into a few thousand words that are at once combative and informative”
“Anderson’s dance of destruction has also opened up new avenues of self-knowledge in the Subcontinent. We would do well to engage with it calmly and honestly.”
“For the Left, Anderson’s critique raises a number of questions that it leaves tantalizingly unanswered. If democracy, secularism, and national unity as they are enshrined in liberal nationalist thinking are values that the Left must give up, where does that leave us? What could or should replace the “Idea of India”? What are the implications of this analysis for our understanding of the subcontinental state system and for the future of struggles for national self-determination and social emancipation? The Indian Ideology offers few answers to these questions, but is an excellent conversation starter”
“A clear summary of the fight for independence, partition and its consequences. For this alone, it is worth reading.”
“Once in a while in any field of study, a book appears that can be called path breaking in terms of the quality of its critical review of the existing body of knowledge in that field and setting a new research agenda. This is one of those books in the field of Indian/South Asian studies”
“Perry Anderson brings together a set of arguments that will be received with disquiet by the scholars and ideologues who have constructed a celebratory, self-righteous consensus about the Indian Republic. Instead of writing off the unspeakable violence and egregious injustice in our society as aberrations in an otherwise successful model, Anderson points to serious structural flaws and the deep seated social prejudices of those who have administered the Indian State in the decades since Independence. It is important to read this book seriously, with equanimity and an open mind, instead of flinching and turning away from it.”