Modern Indian Political Thought: Text and Context


Bidyut Chakrabarty & Rajendra Kumar Pandey

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  • Part I: Revisiting the Texts

    Part II: Context and Contextual Influences Re-Examined

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    To our parents who introduced us to the world of learning


    Indian political thought constitutes one of the most significant components of undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum in political science and modern Indian history in almost all the universities in India. However, the majority of writings on the subject by Indian authors appear to suffer from a fundamental flaw in the sense that these writings are shorn of a context-driven conceptualisation of the major strands of the thoughts of the thinkers. The present work, therefore, seeks to articulate the main currents of modern Indian political thought in an unconventional way of locating the texts and themes of the thinkers within the socio-economic and politico-cultural contexts in which such ideas were conceptualised and articulated. Moreover, the book also tries to analytically grasp the influences of various British constitutional devices that appeared as the responses of the colonial government to redress the genuine socio-economic grievances of various sections of the Indian society. Thus, the book happens to be unique in the sense that it breaks new grounds in not only articulating the main currents of modern Indian political thought, in an analytically more sound approach of context-driven discussion, but also provokes new researches in the field by chartering a new course in grasping and articulating the political thought in India.

    In writing the book, a number of people have, directly and indirectly, contributed, to whom we remain indebted. It is indeed a matter of pride for us to steer the SAGE Text Book project further with this tract. We are thankful to SAGE management for bestowing this honour on us. In fact, it was the personal care and interest of Dr Sugata Ghosh, Vice President, Commissioning, SAGE, and the constant prodding of his team of able and efficient editors who got the work finally done, despite a number of hiccups right from the very beginning. We feel dutybound to express our gratitude to them.

    We are thankful to the anonymous referees of the manuscripts whose suggestions were quite insightful and helped in revising the contents of the volume. We are also indebted to our students whose critical queries in the classroom proved to be valuable inputs in arranging the texts and contexts of the various thinkers. If they find the book useful and intellectually provocative, we will have achieved what we are looking for.

    Finally, we fondly acknowledge the unflinching support and contribution of our families without which it would not have been possible for us to concentrate on our academic pursuits of which the latest product comes in the form of the present book.


    There are broadly two specific ways in which social and political thought in India can be conceptualised. On the one hand, there is a relatively easier way of articulating the thought in a chronological format. This is a format in which the ideas are explained in a sequence underplaying the importance of the context in defining the ideas in a particular mould. Those supporting this type of conceptualisation tend to focus more on the ideas per se and less on what lay behind them. Although it is a useful exercise, its academic utility seems to be limited for two reasons: (a) by following a purely descriptive mode, this exercise does not allow us to go beyond what is visible on the surface, and (b) the narrative mode is theoretically restraining because it fails to explain the moments when new ideas emerge as hegemonic, replacing those ideas which lost their explanatory capabilities.

    In contrast to this, there exists, on the other hand, another mode whereby ideas are articulated as part of complex socio-economic and political processes that remain at the root of their construction and evolution. Social and political thought, as per this conceptualisation, is organically linked with the interplay of factors involving society, economy and politics. What is significant in this mode is the critical importance of the milieu in which ideas get articulated. Especially in a colonial dispensation, the importance of the context is obvious, for not only does it distort the natural evolution of a society, it also seeks to swallow the prevalent oppositional ideas, presumably because of their very nature. In such an explanatory mode, the complexity of the evolution of social and political thought is evident and clearly spelt out. The purpose of this long introduction is not merely to document the political ideas of those thinkers who changed the course of India's freedom struggle, but also to analyse the socio-historical contexts in which these ideas evolved and also the socio-political changes that these ideas aimed at.

    Given the dialectical interaction between ideas and their context, it provides a persuasive theoretical format that is relative to the circumstances. Opposed to the foundational views of social and political thought, this is an approach giving space to the search for alternatives within a framework that adequately underlines the organic nature of ideas. Located within fluid socio-economic and political processes, ideas are always in constant flux and, hence, their fluid nature. Such a theoretical postulate allows us to both articulate and conceptualise social and political thought in the context of colonialism or any other value system with no organic link with the prevalent society.

    Since the book is about modern Indian political thought, its obvious focus is on ideas that critically influenced the articulation of nationalism in India. Even before nationalism emerged as a decisive ideology, there was a long tradition of political thought which provided specific perspectives in which several thinkers interpreted their views and ideas. This is not the right place to deal with pre-modern political thought, though a discussion of major perspectives in which political ideas were articulated in the past is perfectly in order. Broadly speaking, Kautilya and Barani, representing two different periods of Indian socio-political life, are two major thinkers who not only put forward their views most systematically, but also set the ideological tone of the period in which they articulated their lived experience. Hence, we will concentrate on the contribution of Kautilya and Barani primarily to grasp the perspectives in which they conceptualised major socio-political issues of the period by critically engaging with the prevalent historical context.


    In the ancient Indian political thought, the contribution of Kautilya appears significant for at least two reasons. First, the comprehensiveness and analytical precision of his ideas on the subjects as diverse as origin of state, the nature of state, the concepts of dharma and danda, interstate relations and diplomacy, the ideas of decentralisation, welfare state and public opinion, and so on are so profound that they seem axiomatic to explain the idea of political thought in ancient India. Second, as a result, Kautilya and his Arthashastra are ordinarily reckoned as the representative thinker and the text, respectively, to delineate the broad contours of political and administrative system prevailing in the ancient times. So all-encompassing seems to be the scope of the Arthashastra that it contains vivid commentary on subjects like economics, ethics, sociology, intelligence, espionage, warfare, criminology, education, and so on. Yet, the science of politics and statecraft remains the running theme of the treatise. Accepting monarchy as the most suitable form of governance, Kautilya provides a deep analysis of the basic issues of statecraft like organisation of the state, qualities of the ideal ruler, ethical and moral foundations of the society, norms of practical politics, problems of war and diplomacy, and various aspects of an efficient and effective administration.

    Kautilya's theory of state stands out prominently as one of the theoretical postulates propounded in ancient times but carry some amount of veracity even in modern times. Explaining the origin of state as patently man-made, he noted that the original state of nature was marked by the existence of matsyanyaya or ‘the law of the fish’ whereby the bigger fish swallows the smaller fish. This situation was overcome by people by anointing Manu, the son of Vivasvat, as the king. Thus, it seems obvious that as far as the system of governance was concerned, Kautilya preferred the system of monarchy in comparison to other forms of governance such as dvairajya (joint rule by males of the same family over the whole kingdom), vairajya (rule by a foreign ruler by occupation), and so on, the mention of which were made by Kautilya in the Arthashastra. Nevertheless, given the supreme position of the king in the state, Kautilya emphasised on certain innate qualities of the king including his training in philosophy, economic sciences and dandaniti or political science (Kangle 1972: Book I, Chapter 6).

    A key aspect of the Kautilyan theory of state is considered to be the saptang (seven organs) theory. Consisting of the seven vital organs, that is, the swami (the ruler), the amatya (the minister), the janapada (the territory with people settled on it), the durga (the fortified capital), the kosha (the treasury), the danda (the army) and the mitra (the ally or friend), the saptang theory seeks to define the state as an organic entity rooted in the seven elements. The nature of state which emerges from an analysis of the saptang theory seems to be enmeshed in the characteristics of a strong monarchy with stable and systematic administration. Though references have been made to the elements of people and territory through the overbearing concept of the janapada, Kautilya appears to be laying more stress on the structural dimensions of state by detailing the elements of the durga, the kosha and the danda so profoundly. Interestingly, the inclusion of mitra as an inalienable element of state provides a holistic perspective to his theory of state, for it portrays the state not only as a sovereign entity in itself, it also recognises the existence of the state as a member of the comity of nations having interactions with each other, thereby ordaining the polity a distinct characteristic of pluralistically dominated monism (Krishna Rao 1958: 64).

    In proper operationalisation of his theory of state, Kautilya banks heavily upon the twin concepts of dharma and danda. Explaining dharma as some sort of social duty involving obedience to the customary and sacred laws, Kautilya seems to visualise two-fold functions of dharma. First, while advocating a strong monarchy, he never allowed the king to become absolute and the restraining factor was supposed to be dharma. In other words, though the king was supreme in his state, he was not above dharma. Second, the social conduct of the citizens of the state is also supposed to be regulated and restrained by the dynamics of dharma. Thus, dharma happens to be some sort of amorphous and supreme law of the land in ancient times within the norms of which everyone in the state, including the king, has to live his life and discharge his stipulated responsibilities. Kautilya maintains that in order to have the proper functioning of dharma in society, the unmistakable role of danda should not be ignored. Conceptually, danda, in ancient Indian political traditions, is understood in the sense of coercion or punishment. Standing out as the prime instrument of discipline in society, danda was supposed to ingrain in the personality of the king the very right to punish a citizen if the latter is found to be acting in gross violation of the laid down norms of the state, which were fundamentally determined by the sacred and customary laws of the state. Thus, in the formulations of Kautilya, disciplining an aberrant citizen appeared to be an important duty of the king, as the failure in doing so would have resulted in unnecessary disturbances and miseries for the otherwise peaceful and happy life of the citizens of the state. And danda was supposed to be the legitimate instrumentality to bring out order and discipline in the state.

    Another important subject finding a place of prominence in the Arthashastra is the idea of interstate relations and diplomacy. In the ancient Indian literary works, the whole idea of interstate relations was sought to be conceptualised through the notion of the mandala (circles). Hence, Kautilya also attempted to explain the dynamics of interstate relations in ancient times through his mandala theory. The essence of the theory lies in delineating the position of a kingdom as an ally or enemy vis-à-vis the intending conqueror with respect to its spatial placement in the mandala. Taking the vijigishu (the conqueror or the ambitious king) as the reference point of the mandala theory, Kautilya explains the theory in terms of four basic circles. For instance, in the first circle, the vijigishu, his friend and his friend's friend exist as the three primary kings forming a circle of states and each possessing the five elements of sovereignty such as the amatya, the janapada, the durga, the kosha and the danda. Consequently, a circle of states comprises of 18 elements. This analogy applies to the other three circles of states having the ari (enemy of the vijigishu), the madhyama (the indifferent king) and the udasina (the neutral king) kings forming the core of each of the three circles. In final reckoning, therefore, the mandala theory consists of four primary circles of states, 12 kings, 60 elements of sovereignty and 72 elements of states, drawing on the texture of the four circles.

    In the realm of interstate relations, apart from the mandala theory, Kautilya also elaborates upon what he calls as the upayas (peace politics) and the shadgunyas (six war tactics). These are supposed to be the operational tips to the conqueror to conduct his interstate relations in times of peace and war. Besides, Kautilya puts forward a detailed system of diplomatic relations amongst the states and insists upon a sound espionage system to be maintained by the king in order to remain immune from any internal or external threat to his life and state.

    In final analysis, it comes out that Kautilya is rightly reckoned by various scholars and commentators as the true representative to describe and explain the form and nature of state and society as existing in the Maurayan times. The Arthashastra, therefore, not only turns out to be the authentic source of information regarding the state of things in the ancient times, but its coverage and the depth of analysis of various aspects of life have been so profound that most, if not all, of the dimensions of the socio-economic and politico-administrative systems of the ancient times may be discerned from the text of the Arthashastra. Moreover, many of the ideas presented and analysed by Kautilya in the Arthashastra hold good even today in most of the domains which constitute the bedrock of the modern life.


    The medieval period represented a distinct phase in the history of the political thought in India owing to the introduction of new aspects in the socio-economic and politico-administrative lives of the people with the arrival of the Muslim rulers in the country. Quite evidently, the unique feature of Islamic way of life, as it existed in the medieval times, was the belief in the universality of the law of the Quran as drawn from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad. Consequently, the Shariat, based on the precepts of the Quran, was taken as the final authority on the very existence of life and the raison d'être of the state and the government was to serve the purposes of Shariat. Hence, the typicality of the political thought rooted in such a singular view of life was bound to be articulated by the chroniclers and the historians of the time. In this regard, taken as the representative thinker of the medieval times, the contribution of Zia-ud-din-Barani seems to be immense, as in his writings, he was able to articulate the scenario of the political life in the middle ages focussing on the functional aspects of the institution of the Sultan with reference to the Islamic faith on the one hand and the social dynamics of life of the common people on the other.

    As one of the main intellectuals of the Delhi Sultanate, Barani wrote a number of books and monographs detailing the various aspects of the social and political life of the medieval ages. Sufficiently enriched and authenticated by his first-hand experiences in the functioning of the monarchy during the Sultanate period, two distinguished works of Barani that stand out are reckoned as the Tarikh-i-Firozeshahi and the Fatwa-i-Jahandari. Keeping with the tradition of the historians writing under the patronage of a king, Tarikh-i-Firozeshahi was also authored by Barani in a eulogising tone to the rule of Firoze Shah Tughlaq, to begin with. But with the withdrawal of patronage, Tarikh-i-Firozeshahi is concluded with scornful critique of the rule of Firoze Shah Tughlaq. Though Tarikh-i-Firozeshahi carried certain insightful comments on the functional dynamics of monarchy in the medieval times, the substantial theorisation on the political philosophy of the Sultanate period is found in the Fatwa-i-Jahandari, for it is in this treatise that Barani presented a dispassionate and critical view of the political and administrative systems prevailing in the times of Delhi Sultanate, with the king standing at the apex of the state and government.

    Barani's theorisation of the concept of state and the ideal Sultan is reminiscent of the peculiarity of the political thought in the medieval times. Taking Prophet Mohammad as his reference point, Barani asserted that the Prophet was the embodiment of state on earth, having blessed to be so by the Almighty himself. After the departure of the Prophet from the scene, Sultan succeeded him to rule over the people as the representative of God. Thus, in Barani's formulations, the state in the medieval times used to be somewhat a theocratic state based on the stipulations put forward by God through the persona of the Prophet Mohammad. Consequently, the two holy codes of Quran, comprising of the fundamental guidelines of life based on the teachings of Mohammad, and Shariat, providing the operational framework of state and government drawing on the precepts of Quran, were supposed to be the supreme laws of the land and an ideal Sultan was expected to discharge his responsibilities of governance only in accordance with the prescriptions of the two holy books.

    The fundamental thrust of the Fatwa-i-Jahandari seems to be on providing the ideal Sultan with a set of advices (nasihats) in guiding his conduct both in his personal as well as official capacities. It is by way of these advices that Barani tried to propound his theory of the ideal Sultan and commented on various other aspects of state and government as existing in the medieval period. Born out of his deep knowledge drawn from his ancestral interactions with various Muslim rulers as well his own first-hand experiences in the conduct of the affairs of governments during the times of the Tughlaqs, Barani's advices appear to be an admixture of the analysis of particular scenarios experienced by the Sultans over different times, and appropriate prescriptive suggestions to the Sultan regarding the probable ways out to either avoid or wriggle out of such precarious circumstances. Thus, the advices of Barani tend to have a critical analysis of the prevailing situations on the one hand and articulate Barani's own perspective on those circumstances on the other hand.

    A remarkable feature of Barani's theorisation on the polity of the medieval times is its distinct class character dominated by the elites having the right to collect land revenues from specified areas (Habib 1995: 82). Moreover, given the foundational support provided to the kingdom by the two formidable pillars of administration and conquest, it was obvious that the bureaucracy and the army form an inevitable part of the ruling elites during the medieval period. However, the top echelons of the bureaucratic setup of the Sultan were essentially aristocratic, as it was staffed with the high-born Muslim men of traditional noble lineage with almost total exclusion of the low-born men from the promotional avenues of the bureaucracy. Similarly, the armed forces of the Sultan were commanded by the predominantly Muslim aristocratic class having loyalties exclusively to the persona of the king and finding a place of prominence in the court of the Sultan. Thus, the realms of state and government during the medieval times were confined to the high-born traditional nobles occupying the top positions in various sectors of the kingdom with the plebeian sections of the society standing in total disengagement with the governing elites of the society.

    In the times when the whole structure and processes of government were rooted in the religious texts like Quran and Shariat, a profound contribution of Barani appears to be his advocacy of zawabit (the state laws) as an important source of law in governing the state. The basic rationale for the acceptance of zawabit by Barani seems to be his realisation that with the changing complexion of society and the increasing complexity of administering the diverse populace and unwieldy empires, it might not have been possible to do the things strictly in accordance with the stipulations laid down in Shariat. Hence, Barani expressed himself in favour of zawabit whose foundations were non-religious and secular. Though he maintained that the zawabit should not be overtly contradictory to the precepts of the Shariat, he asserted that the former should be given due weightage in the state as its aim is to introduce functional flexibility in the works of various governmental departments on the one hand, and foster loyalties to the king and the state on the other.

    In the end, Barani turns out to be the real and authentic source of information and subsequent theorisation on the state of things existing in the middle ages. The unique contribution of Barani to Indian political thought seems to lie not only in elucidating the foundation and functioning of an Islamic state based on the precepts of Quran and Shariat, he was also eloquent enough in portraying the subtle transformations which the classical Islamic systems of state and government underwent over a period of time in India in the medieval times. Thus, despite being a conservative aristocrat in his outlook, Barani seems to be aware of the necessity of stability and flexibility in the affairs of the state for the securing of which he appeared to be prepared to even mildly compromise with certain norms of the traditional Islamic law (Habib 1980: 113–15).

    As the above discussion of two contrasting perspectives shows, Indian social and political thought is perhaps a vantage entry point to grasp the ideas that were a peculiar admixture of both conflicting and complementary ideas drawn on various sources. It would also be wrong to simply accept that the well-entrenched ‘Indian’ values had no role to play in this process; in fact, it was a creative articulation of ideas that had an imprint of both the foreign and indigenous influences. It cannot, therefore, be characterised as a ‘derivative’ discourse per se; its articulation in the Indian context also suggests that by indigenising these ideas, those who formulated the ideas out of their serious engagement with the prevalent socio-economic and political context creatively constructed new set of models which were neither imitative of the past nor purely ‘traditional’ in its orthodox sense.

    Conceptualising Modern Indian Political Thought

    Indian political thought involves three related issues of ‘nation’, ‘nationalism’ and ‘national identity’. For obvious reasons, these three ideas constitute the foundation, as it were, of any nationalist discourse. Based on specific experiences, the thinkers engaged in this project seek to articulate a voice which is neither absolutely derivative nor entirely delinked with the context. In other words, the ideas are constructed, nurtured and developed within a social, political and economic milieu that can never be wished away in conceptualising social and political thoughts. What is most determining in the entire process is the organic link with a particular reality that always leaves an imprint on the construction of ideas. The purpose of this introduction is to capture the complex interrelationship between the ideas and reality in the context of exogenous but formidable influences of colonialism. Implicit in this process is the dialectics of social and political changes shaping ‘the mind’ of an age that is simultaneously a point of departure and convergence with its immediate past. Presumably because the ideas that constitute ‘the core’ of new thinking are an outcome of a process in which both the present and past seem to be important, they are creatively articulated underlining both the influences.

    Conceptualising nationalism is problematic. Identifying a nation is equally difficult. Scholars differ radically as regards the nature of this phenomenon. Part of this reason is probably located in the peculiar socio-economic circumstances that contribute to the consolidation of nationalism as an ideology. Hence, anti-colonial movements in different parts of the world are differently constituted and textured. Despite the obvious difference in its manifestations in different locations, nationalism is probably the most effective political instrument in political mobilisation against colonialism. What brings otherwise the disparate masses together is a sentiment, articulated in the form of a nationalist ideology that transcends barriers of different kinds for a cause in a particular context. Nationalism creates and sustains an identity by fusing the socio-economic properties of a community with its political and territorial habitat. Through cultural symbols underlining fraternity among a specific group of people, it also creates probably the only credible basis for socio-political unity. By nurturing specific belief systems and displaying its ideas in popularly tuned images, the ideology championing the aspirations of a nation sustains credibility despite odds. The power of nationalism probably lies in the fact that belonging to a nation provides a powerful means of identifying and locating individual selves in the world through the prism of the collective personality and its distinctive culture.

    In recent years, scholars have brought out several new dimensions of nationalism as a conceptual category. Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities (1983) is a major intervention in the debate on the subject, with an argument that nations were not so much the product of specific sociological circumstances such as language, race, religion, and so on but were imagined into existence. Nations seen as ‘imagined communities’ appear to be a useful construct in underlining the homogeneity of interests of various sections of a society in any struggle against colonial powers. While endorsing the basic premise of Anderson, Partha Chatterjee (1986, 1994) provides a creative interpretation of nationalism in the context of anti-colonial political mobilisation in India. Chatterjee accepts the basic premise about the essentially ‘invented’ nature of national identities and the importance of such factors as ‘print capitalism’ in their spread and consolidation. He, however, challenges Anderson's assumption concerning ‘modular forms’ of nationalist intervention since it ignores the point that if modular forms are made available, nothing is left to be imagined.

    In Chatterjee's formulation, Afro-Asian nationalism was based on difference and, therefore, it is wrong to conclude that the nationalist discourse that galvanised the masses into action was entirely derivative and heteronymous. It is true that the non-western leaders involved in the struggle for liberation were deeply influenced by European nationalist ideas. They were also aware of the limitations of these ideas in the particular socio-economic contexts of Africa and Asia due to their alien origin. So while mobilising the imagined communities for an essentially political cause, they spoke in a ‘native’ vocabulary. Although they drew upon the ideas of European nationalism, they indigenised them substantially by discovering or inventing indigenous equivalents and investing them with additional meanings and nuances. This is probably the reason as to why Gandhi and his colleagues in the anti-British campaign in India preferred swadeshi to nationalism. Gandhi avoided the language of nationalism primarily because he was convinced that the Congress flirtation with nationalist ideas in the first quarter of the twentieth century frightened away not only the Muslims and other minorities but also some of the Hindu lower castes. This seems to be the most pragmatic idea one could possibly conceive of in a country like India that was not united in terms of religion, race, culture and common historical memories of oppression and struggle. Here is located the reason why Gandhi and his Congress colleagues preferred the relaxed and chaotic plurality of the traditional Indian life to the order and homogeneity of the European nation–state because they realised that the open, plural and relative heterogeneous traditional Indian civilisation would best suit Indians. In view of the well-entrenched multilayered identities of those identified as Indians, the drive to revitalise the civilisation of India was morally more acceptable and politically more effective.

    Political freedom from the British was necessary not for conventional nationalist logic but because it choked and distorted India's growth as a civilisation. Such an argument probably explains why the Gandhi-led nationalist movement contained essentially ‘Indian’ features. Drawing upon the values meaningful to Indian masses, the Indian freedom struggle developed its own modular form which is characteristically different from that of the West. Although the 1947 Great Divide of the subcontinent of India was articulated in terms of religion, the nationalist language drawing upon the exclusivity of Islam appeared absolutely inadequate in sustaining Pakistan resulting in the rise of Bangladesh in 1971.

    Constructing the Nation

    India was not a nation in the stereotypical sense as it lacked the classical ingredients of nationhood. Yet, there were constant endeavours during the colonial rule to attain nationhood on the part of those seeking to articulate nationalist aspirations. The process that contributed to the constitution of the nation began in an earlier phase of cultural contestation through various social and political reform movements. There are three major ways in which this process got articulated. First, the appropriation of the popular that was translated into an effort towards developing a national culture, without seeking to homogenise the nation which was not united in the European sense. Since the popular was conceptually pervasive, the nationalist thinkers generally sought to articulate their arguments in popular terms. Swadeshi was perhaps the most ideal expression to gain maximum political mileage in a context wherein the conventional nationalist logic seemed to be divisive. The second way was the ‘classicisation’ of traditions whereby attempts were made to create a history of the nation. By drawing upon the historical memories, the past of the nation was sought to be captured in the form of a history. A classicisation of the past involved appropriation of the so-called ‘Indian tradition’, including such overtly anti-Brahmanical movements as Buddhism, Jainism and the various deviant popular sects. Islam could not be accommodated in this tradition since it was an alien religion and had also an alternative tradition. Islam's contribution to the history of the nation was recognised merely as ‘a foreign element’, domesticated by sharing the so-called classical past of the nation. The third way concerns the structure of the hegemonic domain of nationalism where colonialism was never allowed to intervene. The contradiction between the colonisers and the colonised clearly separated their respective domains. On this basis, the anti-colonial nationalist struggle created its own domain of sovereignty confronting the imperial power. This is usually explained in a theoretical format dividing this domain between ‘material’ and ‘spiritual’ or ‘inner’ and ‘outer’. The material domain constituted the economy, science, technology and statecraft in which the West proved its superiority and the East had ‘succumbed’. There was, however, an inner domain drawn on the unique spiritual and cultural resources of the East. Although the West was politically dominant, its role was marginal in the inner domain presumably because of its failure to comprehend the complexity of the spiritual and cultural world of the East. This had a significant consequence. With growing influence of the West in the public sphere, the nationalist project was sought to be strengthened by looking more and more at the inner domain. By drawing upon the spiritual and cultural strength of the imagined nation, those seeking to identify its ‘distinctiveness’ vis-à-vis the West initiated a process that loomed large, particularly in the twentieth century, when Gandhi organised a mass campaign by underlining the role of a colonial power in undermining India's age-old ‘civilisation’. Similarly, Tilak's critique of the 1890 Age of Consent Bill is, therefore, a part of wider nationalist agenda seeking to protect the distinct Hindu identity of which caste remains a non-negotiable dimension. In his perception, the Bill struck at the foundation of caste and the sudharaks undermined ‘the power of caste panchayats’ by allowing the colonial ruler to intervene in an exclusive domain of Hindu society and, hence, it needed to be resisted (Chatterjee 1994: 4–7).

    Context as a Driving Force

    Indian social and political thought is contextual. Hence, a unilinear explanation of its evolution can never be tenable. Ideas metamorphose in response to the milieu contributing to their germination. Under colonialism, the role of the alien power seems to be a significant determinant in the articulation of the ideas which can either be ‘oppositional’ or ‘supportive’ of the regime it creates. So the changing nature of the ideas is largely an outcome of this process involving the incipient nation and its bête noire, the colonial power. This invariably draws our attention to an interplay in which society, economy and polity interact with each other in a very complex manner, obviously under the paradigm of colonialism. For analytical purposes, one can theoretically distinguish two phases of Indian nationalist movement. The first is roughly described as pre-Gandhian phase while the second phase is known as Gandhian phase when the Mahatma reigned supreme both in conceptualising and articulating the freedom struggle. Following the rise of Gandhi, the nature of the nationalist intervention had undergone dramatic changes. Nationalist articulation in this phase was neither ‘elite actions’ of the Extremists nor ‘constitutional reconciliation’ of the Moderates but the growing importance of the mobilised masses where the Gandhian voice appeared to be most crucial.

    Within this broad typology, one can also think of further classification of Indian nationalist thought in terms of separate ideological moments. According to Partha Chatterjee (1986), nationalist thought in India has three well-defined moments which are defined as moments of ‘departure’, ‘manoeuvre’ and ‘arrival’. The moment of departure epitomises an encounter of a nationalist consciousness with the framework of knowledge, created by post-Enlightenment rationalist thought. It contributed to an awareness—and acceptance as well—of the basic cultural differences between East and West. Accepting that the European culture was superior to the traditional East, thinkers like Bankim, Dayanad or Phule were in favour of adopting the modern attributes of European culture to strengthen the disparate collectivity, vaguely defined as ‘a nation’. The second phase of the nationalist thought is known as a moment of manoeuvre because of the capacity of the nationalist leadership to govern the articulation of the nationalist thought in terms of its own priority. One of the distinguishing features of this period was the prevalence of several ideological possibilities. Not only was Gandhian non-violence dominant, there were multiple ideological strands opposed to Gandhi and his worldview. Given the articulation of diverse ideological constructs, this was an interesting phase when national political thought was perhaps the most complex for obvious reasons. Apart from competing ideologies that tried to nurse specific constituencies, Gandhi's swadeshi was also an all-embracing ideological platform where nationalists of all shades came together. This is why Gandhi was most significant in this phase. The moment of arrival is when nationalist thought attains its fullest development. It becomes a discourse guiding the socio-economic development of the young nation that gained political salience in its struggle against the alien power. The nation articulates itself in an unambiguous voice, as it were. Glossing over the ideological divergences, the nation was now engaged in developing a unified life history that was hardly challenged, due presumably to the hegemonic influence of what was defined as ‘common concern’. Jawaharlal Nehru is probably the most powerful thinker in this phase when the idea of a nation–state was both articulated and consolidated within this mould. Nationalism, therefore, became a state ideology by clearly guiding the incipient state to an ideological goal that was peripheral in both the earlier phases.

    The evolution of nationalist thought needs to be contextualised in the larger social processes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The two most obvious ones are nationalism and democratisation. In the context of the first, the question that deserves careful attention is as to why communities seek to redefine themselves as nations. What mark of distinctiveness does being a nation carry and, as a corollary, what is denied to a community and its members if they do not claim their status as a nation? After all, the obsessive desire of communities to claim the status of nations or to define India as a nation is historically conditioned and textured. Simply put, after the late nineteenth century, the claim to any form of self-government was shelved so long as it was not articulated as the claim of a nation. Colonial sovereignty in part rested upon denying that India was a nation. The nationalist project was not simply something that elites dreamt up to define others in their image; it also sought to identify and highlight the distinctive features of a population to justify its claim for nationhood.

    The belief in an Indian nationhood as a historical fact was based on western models. But it ‘was also an emotionally charged reply to the rulers' allegation that Indian never was and never could be a nation’ (Raychaudhuri 1999: 18). The construction of even a vaguely defined Indian nationhood was a daunting task simply because India lacked the basic ingredients of a conventionally conceptualised notion of a nation. There was, therefore, a selective appeal to history to recover those elements transcending the internal schism among those who were marginalised under colonialism. Hence, an attempt was always made in a concerted manner to underline ‘the unifying elements of the Indian religious traditions, medieval syncretism and the strand of tolerance and impartiality in the policies of Muslim rulers’ (ibid.). So the colonial milieu was an important dimension of the processes that led to a particular way of imagining a nation in a multiethnic context like India which is so different from the perceptions based on western experience. The political sensibilities of Indian nationalism ‘were deeply involved in this highly atypical act of imagining’ (ibid.).

    Freedom Struggle and Political Thought

    Apart from colonialism, the major factor that contributed to the formation of a political entity that was India was the freedom movement. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to suggest that the Indian consciousness, as we understand today ‘crystallised during the national liberation movement’ (Oommen 1990: 39). So national ‘is a political and not a cultural referent in India’ (ibid.). This perhaps led the nationalist leaders to recognise that it would be difficult to forge the multilayered Indian society into a unified nation–state in the European sense.

    The early nationalist responses were, for instance, highly fractured in diametrically opposite ways. While the Moderate viewpoints were articulated in opposition to the British rule in a strictly constitutional manner, the Extremists, by simply paying no heed to this, experimented with a completely different method of anti-British campaign in which violence was justified as well. The idea of independence dawned on them, though their definition of nation did not appear to have reflected the highly diversified Indian society. For instance, the lukewarm attitude to the Muslims followed their interpretation of the Islamic rule as barbaric. Yet, there was ambivalence in characterising the Indo-Islamic phase of Indian history. In its later conceptualisation, radicalism, however, was defined to incorporate the Muslims as well presumably because of the impact of Gandhian mass politics. With the rise of the Muslim League in 1906 and the increasing role of religious schism in nationalist response, Muslims grew in importance not only in the British-initiated constitutional arrangement but also in the nationalist political articulation. The other dimension that gained political mileage was the nationalist urge to incorporate the hitherto neglected sections of the society, namely, peasants and workers. Drawn on their faith on national democracy, the radicals of the Gandhian period sought to mobilise both the peasantry and workers, of course, within the broad nationalist paradigm of anti-British struggle. What it suggests is the growing complexity of radicalism as a socio-political goal as well as its ideological components, which were contingent on the milieu in which it was articulated.

    Nationalism is, therefore, not only a political method it is also about fashioning self-representations. While the Hindu identity governed the political discourse in the first phase of radical politics, the complex national identity, inclusive of both religious and other vertical divisions within different religions, figured prominently in later radical conceptualisation. Not only were the subalterns sought to be mobilised, there were also attempts to avoid the nationalist language that tended to homogenise the nation ignoring the socio-cultural distinctiveness of religious communities. Drawn on the dichotomy between nationalism and communalism, the early nationalist argument contributed to a nationalist ideology that was an upshot of a search for alternative which was neither derivative nor purely indigenous.

    Constructing Pan-Indian Nationalism

    Realising the conceptual limitation of nation as a category for political mobilisation in a fractured society like India, the radical thinkers put forward an innovative formula seeking to expand the nationalist domain by linking regional issues with their pan-Indian counterparts. This resulted in two types of complementary responses: on the one hand, it created awareness among people in various parts of the country, though not always affected in the same degree of the exploitative and anti-Indian nature of British rule which, on the other hand, linked the regional aspirations for political freedom with the national campaign. In such a process where regional issues became national, the unifying role of the British administration was no doubt significant. The process was not without friction however. But the internal ideological struggles produced probably the most complex and non-western construction of nation and nationalism. As evident, a claim to difference and, at the same time, appreciating the western ideals of reason and humanism seemed to have figured prominently in the radical search for ideological alternative. Past was given great descriptive salience so long as it served the present purpose. So, it was not surprising for the early nationalists like Ram Mohan, Bankim or Dayananda that the Hindu past was preferred to the Islamic past in accordance with an ideological design that had a natural appeal to the majority Hindu community.

    By ideologically dissociating from the mendicant nationalism of the first generation of Congressmen, the Extremist thinkers made the nationalist discourse highly masculine. Whether it was the social radicalism of Jotiba Phule or Ram Mohan, or political radicalism of Bankim, Aurobindo, Bipin Chandra Pal or Tilak, what ran through their writings was an aggressive stance on both social and political issues. Based on opposition, the radical nationalist discourse was articulated in two distinct and yet complementary ways: first, the ideologues of social radicalism expressed their resentment in categorical terms against ‘distorted’ Hinduism while those with politically radical views suggested inspirational elite action plans as illustrative of the masculinity of the nationalist endeavour. It was not, therefore, surprising that both Ram Mohan and Phule argued strongly against the archaic Hindu social customs that, inter alia, privileged the upper castes as against those at the bottom of an artificial social hierarchy in the name of the so-called religious purity. Similarly, issues like widow remarriage or education of girls that Phule took up clearly indicated the extent to which they were grounded on an urge for dramatically altering the prevalent social norms and value systems despite strong opposition from those supporting the status quo. Even the arguments that Phule made to defend Ramabai's conversion to Christianity were an aggressive critique of Hinduism that completely lost its vitality by the distortions, made by the Brahmans to sustain their hegemony in society. Second, radical nationalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries underlined its masculine character by encouraging violence against the rulers. This new stress was best represented by some of the most romantic forms of protest against colonialism, such as the immensely courageous but ineffective terrorism of Bengal, Maharashtra and Punjab led by semi-westernised, middle class, urban youth. Despite its failure to attain the goal, radical nationalists sought to redeem Indian's masculinity by their aim to defeat the British even by resorting to violence.

    So, radical nationalism in its various forms not only influenced the course of the freedom struggle but also contributed to its conceptualisation. Central to this articulation was a concern for change, whether at the social, cultural or political front. Radical thinkers inspired the nation by drawing upon its distinct socio-cultural identity while their political agenda was informed by an urge to get rid of oppression of any kinds. For the early nationalists, it was the ruler—whether the Mughals or their successor the British—that was the principal target; for the later radicals, especially in the Gandhian phase, apart from the alien government, their attack was also directed against the landlords and industrialists. What it shows was not only the changing ideological contours of radicalism but also its expanding scope that took into account the gradual extension of the constituencies of nationalist politics. So it would be wrong to characterise radicalism as an example of ideological dilution because it was, for obvious reasons, hardly a static conceptual formation. Instead, given its dynamism, radicalism was, as shown above, a creative formulation both as an oppositional method of struggle and a device to ideologically combat the prevalent conceptualisations of nationalist politics whether in its militant or non-violent form.

    Redefining the Contour of Nation

    The second broader context that appears to have decisively shaped the nationalist thought is democratisation. What sort of unity does democracy require? After all, it was a staple of liberal discourse (John Stuart Mill, for instance) that democracy could not flourish in multiethnic societies. The important thing about Jinnah and Savarkar is that they were deploying precisely the liberal argument about why a unitary nationhood is necessary for a modern polity. And then, they provided their own interpretations of how this was to be attained. Second, democracy complicates the problem of representation. What is being represented and on what terms? After all, the divisions between the Congress and Muslim League turned on issues of representation. This is, however, not to suggest that the state created two monolithic communities and these communities came into being through the politics of representation, since the relationship between identity and democracy is far deeper and complex than it is generally construed in contemporary discourses on South Asia. Identity politics is about expressing one's agency and creating new forms of collective agency. In this sense, they are part of the democratic ferment where people want to fashion identities for themselves. This process will happen at all levels with a complicated relationship between the levels.

    Furthermore, democratisation is both inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive because it unleashes a process to include people, at least theoretically, regardless of class, clan and creed; it is essentially a participatory project seeking to link different layers of sociopolitical and economic life. As a movement, democracy thus, writes Charles Taylor (1998: 144), ‘obliges us to show much more solidarity and commitment to one another in our joint political project than was demanded by the hierarchical and authoritarian societies of yesteryears.’ This is also the reason why democratisation tends towards exclusion that itself is a byproduct of the need of a high degree of cohesion. Excluded are those who are different in so many ways. We are introduced to a situation where a communal identity can be formed or malformed in contact with significant ‘others’, generally projected with an inferior or demeaning image.

    The 1919–21 Non-Cooperation–Khilafat Movement is illustrative here. By a single stroke, both Hindus and Muslims were brought under a single political platform submerging, at one level, their distinct separate identities. At another level, this movement is a watershed in the sense that these two communities remained separate since they collaborated as separate communities for an essentially political project. So the politics of inclusion also led towards exclusion for the communities which identified different political agenda to mobilise people.

    Nation and National Identity

    In the imagination of national identity, both these forces of nationalism and democratisation appeared to have played decisive roles. Nationalism as a concerted effort was not merely unifying, it was also expansive in the sense that it gradually brought together apparently disparate socio-political groups in opposition to an imperial power. The character of the anti-British political campaign gradually underwent radical changes by involving people of various strata, region and linguistic groups. The definition of nation also changed. No longer was the nation confined to cities and small towns, it also consisted of innumerable villages which so far remained peripheral to the political activities generated by the freedom struggle. Whatever the manifestations, the basic point relates to the increasing awareness of those involved in nation-building both during the anti-imperial struggle and its aftermath.

    The construction of national identity has thus to be viewed in the context of a search for nationhood by those who apparently felt threatened under the prevalent socio-economic configurations. For instance, one of the first serious attempts to establish the Indian Muslims as a separate national community was made by Rahmat Ali. Although Rahmat Ali clearly articulated the demand for a separate national status for the Muslims, the 1916 Lucknow Pact appears to be the first well-defined attempt in this direction. In his earlier incarnation as the member of the Congress, Jinnah—underlining the distinctiveness of Muslims as a community—defended separate electorates for them as the only mechanism to defuse inter-community tension. Such Muslim leaders were clearly in favour of separate electorates for the Muslims for protection of their distinct identity as compared with the Hindus. It was, therefore, easier for the British to pursue a policy that culminated in the 1932 Communal Award. Not only was the Communal Award an institutional device to split the Indian communities on grounds of religion, it was also an obvious choice for the British, given the fact that Indian society is essentially a congeries of widely separate communities with divergences of interests and hereditary sentiments which for ages have precluded common action or local unanimity. The 1932 scheme was the culmination of a series of efforts, undertaken by the Muslim leadership to ascertain both the distinctiveness of the community and thus the extent to which it was separate from the Hindus. In the context of the new political arrangement following the adoption of the 1935 Government of India Act, the communal equations appeared to have significantly influenced the course of India's freedom struggle. A.K. Ghuznavi, a prominent Muslim leader, in his memorandum to the Simon Commission, 1927, emphasised that as the Muslim community was educationally, economically and politically behind the Hindus, ‘further extensions of parliamentary institutions without proper and definite safeguards would place the Muslims permanently in a position subservient to the Hindus.’2 Jinnah's 14 Points Programme was the formulations of the above in concrete terms. These points, inter alia, demanded that all legislatures in the country and other elected bodies should be reconstituted on the definite principle of adequate and effective representation of minorities in every province without reducing the majority of any province to a minority. The representation of communal groups had to be governed by means of separate electorate. So what was articulated in the 1932 Communal Award was nothing but a well-prepared design to strengthen the argument that since Muslims were a separate community with a distinct identity, their claim for a separate status within the British India appeared most logical.

    What the Book is (Not) about

    The book is unique in the sense that it seeks to provide a contextual study of Indian political thought which was not exactly derivative of western sources. Despite being drawn to western enlightenment, Indian nationalist leaders articulated their responses which were meaningful in the Indian context. What separates the book from the prevalent literature is the well-argued and also critical exposition of the multidimensional Indian political thought by linking it with the constantly changing socio-economic and political milieu in which it was articulated. The book is woven around three major arguments: first, Indian political thought is far more complex than anywhere else, presumably because of the volatile socio-economic conditions in which it evolved. Accordingly, the discussion is pursued linking the ideas with the context. Colonialism was a powerful input in the articulation of the nationalist response. In other words, Indian political thought during the nationalist period was an immediate response to the colonial rule. Second, while articulating their response, the individual thinkers reinterpreted views on Indian social and political life by drawing on both western and indigenous sources. One cannot dismiss the emotional chord that most of the nationalist thinkers had with the West, especially Britain, for a variety of reasons. In this sense, Indian political thought is a creative blend of western and Indian inputs. Hence, it would be wrong to characterise Indian political thought as purely derivative of the western sources given the clear influences of Ramayana, Mahabharata or any other epic and also various other indigenous tracts in shaping the ideas of these thinkers. While politically challenging the foreign domination, the nationalist thinkers always drew on the indigenous sources to meaningfully articulate their views for mobilising people against colonialism. Third, what is striking in Indian political thought is its changing nature. There is a clear demarcation between Indian political thought that was articulated before and after Gandhi's emergence as an unquestionable national leader. Dominion status and not complete independence was the political goal for most of the thinkers before the rise of Gandhi–Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose as formidable leaders in the nationalist movement. It is possible that by the time the radical Congress nationalists emerged on the scene, the constituencies of the nationalist politics were no longer confined to the metropolitan cities only but expanded considerably to the peripheral sections of society which the Congress could not afford to ignore. So the changed social base of the nationalist politics was reflected in the Congress agenda that by including the militant demands for complete independence actually articulated the pent-up aspirations of various strata of people who, so far, had remained peripheral to the campaign against the British rule.

    The methodology that the book follows is not merely analytical, it is also descriptive in the sense that it has dealt with the subject in a most detailed manner. Within a broad chronological sequence, the book dwells on the representative thinkers articulating specific points of views in the context of the British rule in India. Structured in an evolutionary mould, the book discusses various strands of social and political thought with reference to their articulation and defence in a context. These various strands are not disjointed, presumably because the context in which they gained salience continued to remain the same.

    The book is innovative for two specific reasons: first, besides dealing with Indian political thought, it will acquaint the readers with the context in which it had evolved. Unlike the conventional studies, the book is, therefore, an articulation of a process that remained critical to grasp the changing nature of Indian political thought in different timeframes. Second, in order to understand the distinct characteristics of political ideas, the book focusses on various British constitutional devices which were undoubtedly responses of the Raj to redress the genuine socio-economic grievances of various sections of Indian society. The context-drawn interpretation of these major constitutional interventions by the colonial government is what separates the book from the available literature on Indian political thought that always remained dialectically driven.


    1. Some of the ideas presented here are drawn on our earlier works, including Chakrabarty (2004).

    2. India Office Records (IOR), London. Memorandum by A.K. Ghuznavi. CND 2360, Vol. XVI, p. 188.

    Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities. London: Verso.
    Chakrabarty, Bidyut (ed.). 2004. Social and Political Thought in Modern India. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
    Chatterjee, Partha. 1986. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
    Chatterjee, Partha. 1994. The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
    Habib, Irfan. 1995. Essays in Indian History. New Delhi: Tulika.
    Habib, Irfan. 1980. ‘Barani's Theory of the History of the Delhi Sultanate’, Indian Historical Review, VII (1–2): 113–15.
    Kangle, R.P.1972. The Kautilya Arthasastra. New Delhi: Motilal Banarasidas.
    Krishna Rao, M.V.1958. Studies in Kautilya. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
    Oommen, T.K.1990. State and Society in India: Studies in Nation-building. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
    Raychaudhuri, Tapan. 1999. Perceptions, Emotions, Sensibilities: Essays on India's Colonial Past and Post-colonial Experiences. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
    Taylor, Charles. 1998. ‘The Dynamics of Democratic Exclusion’, Journal of Democracy, 9(4[October]): 144.
  • Conclusion


    The book is about Indian political thought. We have picked up representative thinkers who put forward different perspectives within, of course, the broad nationalist framework. By focussing on the distinctive contribution of these thinkers, the book is an eloquent testimony of diverse views suggesting the richness of the nationalist discourse in India. The primary goal of the nationalist exercise was certainly freedom from foreign rule and nationalism remained the driving force. At the same time, one cannot gloss over the socio-economic content of modern Indian political thought. The nationalists while confronting colonialism also waged a war against the decadent social system which, in the name of holding its genuine spirit, actually defended archaic values for sustaining vested socio-economic forces. This is a unique feature of the Indian political thought that hardly figures in the available academic literature. Notwithstanding their clear political goal, the nationalists fulfilled a historic mission by articulating a new discourse while commenting on the prevalent socio-economic circumstances under colonialism. Central to their concern was to understand the Indian society that evolved in a rather distorted way presumably because of colonialism. By providing a contextual interpretation of Indian political thought, the book seeks to capture the nationalist concern that appeared to have governed the articulation of ideas and views of the prominent freedom fighters while challenging British colonialism.


    The book is organised around major themes in modern Indian social and political thought, keeping in view the changing milieu of colonialism. Since the dividing line between social and political is very thin in the context of nationalist thought, one must not stretch the distinction literally. In other words, nationalist thought contains elements of both social and political in its articulation. It would, therefore, be wrong to categorise ideas of thinkers as purely social or political, since they are enmeshed in a very complex manner to take a concrete shape. So, those identified as social reformers in the context of the nationalist movement had a clear political goal because social regeneration was at the root of any successful political mobilisation against a colonial power. By challenging the religious orthodoxy, Ram Mohan Roy tried, for instance, to scuttle the divisive tendencies in Hindu society. In order to build a socially cohesive and emotionally vibrant collectivity, Roy seemed to have underplayed his concern for political freedom. His appreciation for the British was governed by his critical admiration for the philosophy of Enlightenment that accompanied the colonial rule in India. So, Roy's critical response to the Company rule was an offshoot of an era that was still uncertain over the nature of an alien administration at the behest of the East India Company. What ran through Roy's socio-political ideas appeared in Bankim and Dayananda Saraswati and others confronting the growing importance of colonialism. It is debatable whether they were primarily social reformers as some analysts tend to characterise them, presumably because they were not entirely delinked from the contemporary political questions relating to the devastating nature of colonialism. Furthermore, that they expressed concern over the relative weaknesses of ‘the nation’ vis-à-vis the British due to religiously-justified and socially-endorsed superstitions, introduces a clear political tone to their ideas and thoughts. The priority for them seemed to develop ‘a strong’ nation to confront a foreign power that colonised India by virtue of their socio-political strength. What guided them was based on their assessment of a reality that was still unfolding.

    The story is more or less the same among certain sections of Muslim thinkers who equally appreciated the ‘modernising’ zeal of the British Empire. Syed Ahmad Khan considered, for instance, the colonial rule as a significant influence on the orthodox Muslim society. Given his reformist stance, it is clear as to why he opposed the 1857 Revolt because of its drive to bring back the feudal authority of the past rulers. His admiration for the British rule was based on unstinted belief in the importance of the foreign rule in laying the foundation of new society based on modern scientific knowledge. Like Ram Mohan Roy, he favoured contact with the West as a significant step to ‘modernise’ the Indian society. In this regard, the formation of Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which later became Aligarh Muslim University, served a useful role. As the discussion in the text shows, the socio-political processes of colonialism had a decisive bearing on the articulation of social and political thought in modern India. Whether Hindus or Muslims, the trend remained almost similar in the sense that the response was always guarded while commenting on colonialism and its increasing role in changing India's social and political fabric.

    The British India underwent radical transformations in the twentieth century. In a nutshell, there are three major characteristics of the period that appear to have influenced, if not determined, the way in which social and political thought is both articulated and conducted. First, nationalism underwent radical changes as a result of the link between peripheral struggles with the centrally organised Congress-led freedom movement, as evident in the Non-Cooperation–Khilafat Movement. Second, in organising movements, activists with political affiliations of whatever kind faced serious challenges, based sometime on ideological differences, sometimes on communal divisions; the latter, in fact, became decisive in causing a permanent fissure in the nationalist political platform. Both Hindu and Muslim leadership drew on religion to gain politically under circumstances when individual identity was uncritically conceptualised and strongly defended in terms of religious affiliations disregarding other probable influences in its construction. Third, in the development of the nationalist ideology, several competing ideologies, not always properly articulated, had significant roles representing the views of those in the periphery. For instance, the Congress, especially in the aftermath of the Non-Cooperation Movement, formally recognised the importance of the peasantry and workers in anti-imperial movements. Although the agenda of the periphery was accommodated in the all-pervasive nationalist ideology, it was never decisive in the articulation of nationalist response that was largely, if not entirely, codified around the anti-British sentiments. In other words, the nationalist ideology prevailed over other alternatives, which if allowed to flourish, would have probably fashioned the struggle for freedom differently. Despite various possibilities, Indian freedom struggle continued to remain largely ‘nationalist’ in which the goal other than resistance to a colonial power was not sincerely espoused, presumably because it would dilute the campaign for independence. In India's freedom struggle, nationalism as an ideology never sought to create a nation–state but was primarily an ideology inspiring a subject nation to fight for independence. The nationalist movement was thus structured around ‘freedom from British rule’. Foreign rule was unacceptable not for any conventional nationalist reasons but because it choked and distorted India's growth as a civilisation.

    As evident, Gandhi emerged on the political scene in dramatically altered socio-economic and political milieu. Hence, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to characterise Gandhi in a straightforward manner. In fact, Gandhi is an enigma. Although he had written extensively on various themes pertaining to India's socio-economic and political life, it is difficult to search for a well-argued thesis in Gandhi, presumably because there are areas in his thought that often project a different Gandhi altogether. In order to deconstruct Gandhian thought in the perspective in which he was involved in a gigantic nationalist struggle of the twentieth century, what is probably incumbent is to assess Gandhi in two different ways: first, relating Gandhian political ideas to the actual anti-British onslaught that began with the 1920–22 Non-Cooperation Movement and culminated in the 1942 Quit India campaign in which Gandhi reigned supreme. Second, there were events, more significant perhaps from the point of view of anti-imperial struggle which, though drew upon Gandhian preaching, deviated from the well-established norm of ‘non-violence’; the implication of such a deviation appears disastrous to Gandhi himself, but for those who participated in political movements which ran counter to nonviolence, the means of political action seem to have been derived from Gandhi. This perhaps suggests for ‘autonomy of political movements’ even in the context of an overarching influence of a major political ideology, like non-violence, in a struggle against an imperial power. In other words, what is sought to be argued here is that context needs to be analysed to explain the transformation of an ideology that had, more or less, prevailed over other competing ideologies during the Gandhi-led freedom struggle. One should also be careful to underline that despite marginalisation of nonviolence as a guiding force on occasions, the anti-imperial counter-offensives with whatever ideological underpinning, were not at all spontaneous; instead, they were preceded by the consistent Congress effort at mobilising masses both at the national and local levels through either social work or direct political campaign. Given the complexity of the socio-political environment in British India in which Gandhi articulated his voice of opposition, it is difficult to ignore the importance of the context which unmistakably had a bearing on his views. Gandhi's social and political thought is thus an articulation of such a complex process that cannot be delinked from the reality in which he undertook perhaps the most gigantic anti-imperial struggle in the twentieth century. As discussed in the text, the ideas which the Mahatma propagated were not absolutely indigenised but were a creative articulation in which the prevalent socio-economic and political processes played significant roles.

    There were competing strands in India's social and political thought, though Gandhian approach to the freedom struggle remained most crucial. While E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker (Periyer) articulated, for instance, the voice of the peripheral socio-economic groups, B.R. Ambedkar pursued the argument further within an ideological framework challenging Gandhi and his theory of accommodating conflicting social and economic interests. The agnostic Jawaharlal Nehru did not subscribe entirely to what the Mahatma stood for and yet he carried on, as his most trusted lieutenant, in the freedom struggle. What was unique in Nehru's conceptualisation of Gandhi and his thoughts was probably most creative in the sense that he constantly redefined his ideological commitments keeping in mind the importance of the Mahatma in India's struggle against imperialism. M.N. Roy and E.M.S. Namboodripad put forward arguments in favour of socialist revolution. Being disillusioned, Roy, however, became a radical humanist suggesting that revolution was possible not through class struggle but through proper education. By defending peasant revolution as most appropriate for India, Namboodripad reiterated the Maoist interpretation of Marxism. Unlike these thinkers who argued for a specific plan of action, Rabindranath Tagore commented on the growing divisions within the Indian society undermining basic human values. For Tagore, interaction with the West paved the way for a critical assessment of the so-called eastern values, though he rejected the European notion of nationalism as simply inadequate for a diverse society like India. Seeking to combine Gandhian ideas with socialist thought, Lohia, through his conceptualisation of sapta kranti (seven revolutions), articulated an indigenous response to social and political thought with significant roots in India's diverse socio-cultural milieu. In a significant way, Jayaprakash Narayan's sampurna kranti (total revolution) is drawn on Lohia's political thought. Theorising total revolution as a permanent revolution, JP also suggested a meaningful participation of people in the decision-making process.

    To conclude, Indian social and political thought is perhaps the most creative and complex response to the issues with roots in colonialism as it unfolded during the British rule. It was a critical engagement on the part of those who confronted an alien system of governance and its foundational ideas that always sought to cripple what were known as indigenous values. For an appropriate conceptualisation of such intricate processes, what is required is to accord adequate importance to the dialectical interaction between both the imposed and the prevalent social and political ideas in the context of hegemonic influence of colonialism. The articulation of these processes were, however, not uniform throughout India. As shown, extremist ideas struck roots in Bengal, Punjab and Maharashtra, and its influence elsewhere in the country was almost absent. Illustrative of the importance of a specific socio-economic reality in supporting a particular political ideology, this example draws our attention to the dialectics of the growth of ideas in a transitional society. Similarly, based on their reading of Indian society, those identified as ‘social reformers’ undertook reform agenda seriously than anything else. Gandhi was a class by himself. Not only did he talk about social reforms, he had also a clear political agenda at a time when Indian national struggle was capable of negotiating with the foreign power in its own terms. It is, therefore, difficult to provide a straight-jacket description to Indian social and political thought due perhaps to its complex unfolding during the struggle against imperialism. Notwithstanding this difficulty, the task is further complicated for reasons connected with the rise and consolidation of both complementary and contradictory strands in Indian social and political thought. Given the diverse socio-cultural circumstances in which the subcontinent was placed, one can provide a plausible explanation by linking the social and political thought to their immediate location. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Congress party became an umbrella organisation capable of accommodating individuals with conflicting, if not contradictory, ideas.


    Nationalism was not a homogeneous ideology, as its evolution during India's freedom struggle clearly demonstrated. Before the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, freedom struggle had a very narrow social base and geographic expanse. Even the Congress, confined merely to metropolitan cities, had no endeavour in involving people beyond these cities. The nationalist activities were at their low ebb. Only during the annual session of the Congress, discussions were initiated and resolutions were adopted seeking concession from the British government. The Moderate nationalists within the Congress articulated their opposition to the British rule through petition, prayer and protest, which gradually caused dissension among its colleagues which resulted in a split within the Congress in the 1907 Surat Congress between Moderates and Extremists. Both the Moderates and Extremists failed to expand the constituencies of the nationalist politics, presumably because of their exclusive socio-economic background that acted as a deterrent to those at the lower rung of the society. Neither of these sections was also keen in this regard. In fact, Muslims became alienated largely because the Extremists held strong views against them which they pursued most vigorously during the 1905–08 anti-Bengal partition movement. Disheartened by this policy, Rabindranath Tagore who, for instance, supported the movement at the outset, withdrew his support as it led to division between the communities. So, nationalism was articulated differently by different sections involved in the anti-British struggle.

    The Hindu–Muslim division, undoubtedly the result of the strategic failure of the Congress, was consolidated further due to socio-economic imbalances between them. Besides these broad divisions, communities were further subdivided pursuing conflicting ideologies. In terms of organisational affiliation, while the nationalists from both the communities had their place in the All India National Congress, the Muslim separatist stream flowed through the Muslim League and their Hindu counterparts through the Hindu Mahasabha. By 1916, with the signing of the Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the Muslim League, it was fairly clear that without the approval of the Muslim League, no scheme aiming at Hindu–Muslim unity would succeed. Even with its strong religious overtone (because to the Muslims, it was more a jihad than a political struggle), the Non-Cooperation–Khilafat Movement was the last instance of an understanding between the principal communities on the national plane. Unlike the League, the Hindu Mahasabha was never able to build a strong base; it had a chance to consolidate Hindu opinion when the Congress High Command indirectly accepted the 1932 Communal Award that guaranteed separate electorate to the Muslims. Given the polarisation of political forces on communal grounds at the level of organised politics and deep-rooted socio-economic differences between the two communities, it is not hard to discern why Hindu–Muslim rivalries finally led to partition of the country in 1947 to fulfil the Muslim nationalist aspiration.

    Model Questions

    Chapter 1: Early Nationalist Responses: Ram Mohan Roy, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Dayananda Saraswati and Jotiba Phule
    • Elaborate the broad contours of the early nationalist response in India.
    • Critically examine the salient features of the socio-political thought of Raja Ram Mohan Roy.
    • Assess the contribution of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay as a nationalist thinker.
    • Describe the main currents of the socio-political ideas of Dayananda Saraswati.
    • Illustrate how the socio-political ideas of Jotiba Phule were unique amongst the early thinkers of India.
    • ‘The early nationalist response in India appeared to be more social than political in its orientations.’ Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer.
    • ‘It would not be wrong to say that the socio-religious reformers laid the foundations on which the later nationalist response was built up in India.’ Comment.
    • ‘A proper understanding of the early nationalist response in India would not be possible without looking at the socio-political contexts of the thinkers.’ In the light of the above statement, explain how the early nationalist response could not be understood without keeping the contexts of the thinkers in mind?
    • Why is Raja Ram Mohan Roy called the father of modern India? Evaluate his role as the pioneer of social reforms in India.
    • Do you agree with the view that Jyotirao Phule may be regarded as the precursor of the Dalit awakening in India? Give reasons for your answer.
    Chapter 2: Moderates and Extremists: Dadabhai Naoroji, M.G. Ranade and B.G. Tilak
    • Define Moderates and Extremists. What are the basic postulates of their respective ideologies?
    • Bring out the differences between the Moderates and Extremists in the Indian national movement.
    • Examine the factors that led to the disillusionment of the Extremists with the Moderates.
    • Make a comparative study of the strategies, policies and programmes of the Moderates and the Extremists.
    • Evaluate the role of Dadabhai Naoroji as the icon of the Moderate elements of the Indian National Congress.
    • How far did the rise of Extremist elements lead to the radicalisation of the Congress vis-à-vis its attitude towards British rule in India?
    • Assess the basic elements of the Extremist ideology with special reference to the views of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
    • Examine the circumstances that led to the parting of ways between the Moderates and Extremists at Surat in 1907.
    • Do you support the view that the Moderates and the Extremists supplemented each other rather than acting as rivals in the cause of freedom struggle of the country? Give reasons for your answer.
    • Evaluate the relative contributions of the Moderates and Extremists in the Indian national movement.
    Chapter 3: Mahatma Gandhi
    • In what ways did Gandhi radicalise the theoretical as well as practical orientations of the freedom struggle of the country?
    • Write a critical essay on the basic precepts of the Gandhian political thought.
    • Examine the value of non-violence (ahimsa) and satyagraha as the key features of the Gandhian thought and action.
    • How did Gandhi conceptualise swaraj? Explain in detail.
    • Examine the relevance of Gandhian thought in contemporary times.
    Chapter 4: Rabindranath Tagore
    • Do you agree with the view that the life of Tagore was a life in ‘creative unity’? Give reasons for your answer.
    • Describe the main strands of the political thought of Tagore.
    • What are the main characteristics of the ‘true freedom’ as conceptualised by Tagore? How far such ‘true freedom’ is manifested in contemporary India?
    • Examine the basic issues of the debate between Tagore and Gandhi. Whose point of view seems more plausible to you?
    • Elaborate Tagore's views on nationalism.
    Chapter 5: B.R. Ambedkar
    • Evaluate the contributions of Ambedkar as the champion of the cause of untouchables in the Indian society.
    • Critically examine the views of Ambedkar on the issues of caste and untouchability in India.
    • Write a critical essay on Ambedkar's ‘Annihilation of Caste.’
    • What were main points of debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi? Whose point of view do you support? Give reasons for your answer.
    • Discuss the main strands of the political thought of Ambedkar.
    Chapter 6: Jayaprakash Narayan
    • What were the factors that led to so much of ideological turbulence in the life and thought of Jayaprakash Narayan?
    • Write a critical essay on Jayaprakash Narayan's plan for a reconstruction of the Indian polity.
    • Define sarvodaya. Why did Jayaprakash Narayan find sarvodaya to be the best philosophy for remodelling the India society?
    • Critically examine the concept of ‘total revolution’? How far do you find the concept as having the potential to bring about a holistic reform in India?
    • Assess the role and contribution of Jayaprakash Narayan as a rebel extraordinary amongst the Indian political thinkers.
    Chapter 7: Jawaharlal Nehru
    • Evaluate the role and contribution of Jawaharlal Nehru as a pragmatic thinker in India.
    • Write a critical essay on the Nehruvian inputs in structuring the system of governance in the country.
    • How far can Nehru be called as the father of planning in India? Answer in detail.
    • What were the dilemmas of Nehru as a democrat? How far was he able to reconcile these dilemmas?
    • Assess the ideas of Nehru as a true internationalist.
    Chapter 8: Muhammad Iqbal
    • How far is it true to call the life of Iqbal as a life in complete turnaround? Give reasons for your answer.
    • Delineate the broad contours of the political ideas of Iqbal.
    • What are the unique features of Iqbal's views on nationalism?
    • How did Iqbal conceptualise pan-Islamism as a solution for the problems facing the Muslims in India?
    • Critically examine the views of Iqbal on Pakistan.
    Chapter 9: M.N. Roy
    • What were the factors that led to the transition of M.N. Roy from Marxism to Radical Humanism?
    • How far would it be correct to describe M.N. Roy as the most versatile political thinker in India?
    • What are the main issues in Roy's critique of the Gandhian thought and action?
    • Highlight the main features of Radical Humanism as propounded by M.N. Roy.
    • ‘M.N. Roy eloquently represented the band of Indian thinkers whose initial fascination with Marxism could not last long.’ Comment.
    Chapter 10: Ram Manohar Lohia
    • Trace the indigenous strands in the social and political thought of Ram Manohar Lohia.
    • Critically examine the main features of the political thought of Lohia.
    • What is the basis of Lohia's critique of Western ideologies? Elucidate his notion of ‘New Socialism’.
    • What are the basic features of the political model suggested by Lohia for independent India.
    • Describe the crucial elements of the social thought of Lohia.
    • How far do you think that Lohia was a true internationalist? Give reasons for your answer.
    Chapter 11: Subhas Chandra Bose
    • How did the early life of Subhash Chandra Bose mould his political thoughts in later years?
    • Bring out the salient features of the political ideology of Bose.
    • How do you rate Subhas Chandra Bose: a theoretician or a practitioner? Give reasons for your answer.
    • What are the views of Subhas Chandra Bose regarding Hindu orthodoxy in India?
    • Evaluate the role of Bose in the nationalist movement in India.
    Chapter 12: V.D. Savarkar
    • How far it would be correct to say that the life of Savarkar was a life for the Hindu cause?
    • How did Savarkar provide a nationalist interpretation of the Indian history? How far do you agree with his interpretation?
    • Elucidate the basic features of the social thought of Savarkar.
    • Critically examine Savarkar's views on Hindutva.
    • ‘Savarkar's conception of Indian nationalism was rooted in Hindutva.’ Comment.
    Chapter 13: Pandita Ramabai
    • ‘Pandita Ramabai's life can truly be described as a life in pilgrimage for the cause of women.’ Comment.
    • Discuss the main aspects of the feminist thought propounded by Pandita Ramabai.
    • What are the institutional pursuits made by Pandita Ramabai for the emancipation of women in India.
    • How far would it be correct to say that Pandita Ramabai pioneered the women's movement in India? Give reasons for your answer.
    • Critically examine the contributions made by Pandita Ramabai in ameliorating the conditions of women in India.
    Chapter 14: Nature and Processes of Indian Freedom Struggle
    • Critically examine the nature and processes of the Indian freedom struggle during the Gandhian era.
    • Discuss the nature of the participation of various sections of people in India during the Non-Cooperation Movement.
    • How far would it be correct to say that the Non-Cooperation Movement provided a mass character to the national Movement in India?
    • What were the factors that led to the initiation of the Civil Disobedience Movement? To what extent was the Movement able to achieve its declared objectives?
    • Describe the nature and extent of mass participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement. How did salt become the rallying point for the people during the Movement?
    • What were the basic characteristics of the Quit India Movement? What was its impact on the British attitude towards the freedom movement in the country?
    • Do you agree with the view that the Quit India Movement exposed the limits of the Gandhian method of struggle in the Indian freedom struggle? Give reasons for your answer.
    • Examine the role of the Indian National Army in the freedom struggle of the country.
    • Demonstrate the ways in which the Indian Naval Uprising could be considered a landmark event in the national movement of India.
    • Critically evaluate the role of Mahatma Gandhi in the national movement of the country.
    Chapter 15: Landmarks in Constitutional Development During British Rule in India: A Historical Perspective
    • Discuss the major landmarks in the constitutional development of India during the British rule.
    • Examine the major features of the Morley–Minto reforms. How far is it correct to say that it laid the foundations of the communal politics in India?
    • What is Dyarchy? What were the main features of the system of dyarchy introduced by the Montague–Chelmsford reforms in India?
    • Critically examine the main provisions of the Government of India Act 1919, with special reference to its focus on the autonomy of the provincial government in India.
    • What was the mandate of the Simon Commission? How did the recommendations of the Simon Commission impact the nature of the future India polity?
    • Write a critical essay on the main provisions of the Government of India Act 1935.
    • ‘The provisions of the Government of India Act 1935 provided a solid foundation for the formulation of the Constitution of the free India.’ Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer.
    • ‘The most significant contribution of the Government of India Act 1935 appears to be its formulations on the federal nature of the Indian polity.’ Elaborate.
    • ‘The series of reform measures introduced by British in India reflected a subtle agenda pursued by the British in India.’ Examine the statement with special reference to the deformities the British moves introduced in the future Indian polity.
    • Examine the significance of the Cripps proposals. How far were the Cripps proposals able to break the constitutional deadlock in India?
    Chapter 16: Socio-Economic Dimensions of the Nationalist Movement
    • Write a critical essay on the socio-economic dimensions of the nationalist movement in India.
    • Critically examine the nature of the communal question in India. How did it lead to the partition of the country?
    • Examine the nature, pattern and spread of the backward castes movement in the country.
    • What were the major characteristics of the Dalit movement in the pre-independence times?
    • ‘The tribal movement gave a new orientation and stridency to the nationalist movement in India.’ Elaborate.
    • How far did the women's movement in the pre-independence times appear to be a revolutionary idea in India? Illustrate your answer.
    • ‘The civil rights movement reflected the deepening of the liberal values of life in the India society.’ Comment.
    • ‘The trade union movement played a significant role in radicalising the nature of nationalist movement in India to a great extent.’ Explain and illustrate.
    • Examine the major features of the peasant movement in India. What were the limitations of the movement?
    • How far would it be correct to say that the understanding of the nationalist movement in India would have been incomplete without having a proper understanding of its socio-economic dimensions? Give reasons for your answer.
    Chapter 17: Culmination of the British Rule and the Making of India's Constitution
    • What was the 3 June Plan? What was its significance in the culmination of the British rule in India?
    • Critically examine the main provisions of the India Independence Act 1947.
    • Write a critical essay on the composition and nature of representation in the Constituent Assembly of India.
    • Highlight the major characteristics of the making of the Constitution of India.
    • Discuss the salient features of the Indian Constitution.


    AdvaitaAn Indian philosophical school espousing the cause of non-duality of the existence of god.
    AnandamathThe historical novel authored by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
    AnushilanA kind of practice that Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay elaborated in his writings.
    ArthashastraThe ancient classic written by Kautilya.
    AvarnasA class of people lying outside the framework of the varna system of Hindu society.
    Azad Hind FaujThe Indian National Army set up by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
    BaghanakhaA typical indigenous weapon used by Shivaji in his fight against the Mughals.
    Bahishkrit BharatLiterally meaning proscribed India, an euphemism used by Ambedkar to identify the untouchables in Indian society.
    Bahishkrit Hitkarini SabhaA social reform organisation set up by Ambedkar.
    Bande MataramThe national song of India penned by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
    Bharat bhumiThe land of India.
    BhoodanDonation of land.
    BrahmanThe highest caste in the caste hierarchy.
    Charkha-KhaddarSpining wheel and home spun cotton textile.
    ChaturvarnaThe system of fourfold functional division of the Hindu society.
    ChaukhambhaLiterally meaning four-pillars, a concept developed by Ram Manohar Lohia to recast the Indian political system.
    Chowkidari TaxA kind of security tax imposed by the government on the people.
    DandanitiPenal Provisions.
    Dandi YatraThe march Mahatma Gandhi undertook in 1930 to launch the salt satyagraha.
    DharmaCode of moral duties of the people.
    DurgaAn image of Goddess representing power.
    DvairajyaA system of joint rule by the males of the same family over the whole kingdom.
    DwijaThe people of higher caste who are ordained to be twice-born through certain rituals performed in the childhood.
    Fatwa-i-JahandariA political treatise authored by Barani.
    GitanjaliThe anthology of poems written by Rabindranath Tagore.
    GramdaanDonation of village.
    Gram PanchayatExecutive body of the village assembly.
    Gram SabhaVillage assembly.
    GurudevAn euphemism used by Gandhi for Rabindranath Tagore.
    HarijanAn euphemism Gandhi used for the scheduled castes people and in the name of which he also started publishing a journal.
    Hath yogisSeers having intense stubbornness in their postures.
    Hind SwarajThe monograph published by Gandhi in 1909.
    Hindu rashtraThe Hindu-nation.
    Hindustani Samyavadi SanghLiterally meaning Indian Communist Association, it was an organisation espousing the cause of struggle against the colonial power by violent means.
    Jana Gana ManaNational anthem of India written by Rabindranath Tagore.
    JanapadaA unique conjunction of people and territory.
    Jat-Pat Todak MandalA liberal social reform organisation aimed at breaking the shackles of the caste system.
    JatrasA typical form of folk art performed mainly in Bengal.
    BhartiThe journal started by the family of Rabindranath Tagore.
    JeevandaanDonation of Life.
    Karenga ya Marenga‘We will do or die’.
    KarmaMoral duty.
    KayasthaA relatively middle caste in Indian social order adept at doing clerical duties.
    KesariThe journal published by Tilak.
    KhilafatThe movement launched in India in 1921.
    QuranThe foundational text of Islam.
    KshatriyasThe warrior class in the caste hierarchy in India.
    LoknitiPolitics of People.
    LokshaktiPower of People.
    MadhyamaA king placed in the middle order.
    MaharAn untouchable caste to which Ambedkar belonged.
    MahrattaThe journal published by Tilak.
    MandalaCircular theory of interstate relations given by Kautilya.
    Mandukya UpanishadaA particular religious scripture of Hindus.
    MarathiThe vernacular spoken by people in the state of Maharashtra.
    MatsyanyayaAnarchy; seeking to establish the hegemony of the stronger over the weaker.
    MayaDeception or Illusion.
    MooknayakLiterally meaning silent leader, a journal started by Ambedkar.
    MughalsThe rulers of India in the medieval times.
    Naujawan Bharat SabhaA youth organisation in Punjab literally meaning Indian Youth Congress.
    Nirguna BrahmanThe shapeless soul.
    PanchasMembers of the Village Panchayat.
    Panchayati rajIndigenous system of rural local self government in India.
    Panchayati SamitiBlock level panchayat.
    PanchsheelFive principles which acted as the nucleus of the Indian foreign policy of non-alignment.
    PeshvasThe family of prime ministers of the Marathas who later on became the rulers themselves.
    PrajadrohaA concept argued by Tilak to refer to the right of the people to resist an authority that loses legitimacy.
    PunyabhuHoly land.
    Purna SwarajComplete independence.
    Purusha ShuktaA particular stanza of ancient Hindu law books.
    RajAn euphemism used for British rule in India.
    Rajya shaktiPower of State.
    RannitiRules of guiding a battle.
    RashtraTerritory, nation.
    Rashtriya Swayamsewak SanghThe right-wing nationalist organisation espousing the cause of Hindu-rashtra.
    SakaraBodily incarnation.
    Samaj Samata SanghA social reform organisation set up by Ambedkar.
    Samata Sainik DalA social reform organisation set up by Ambedkar.
    SampattidaanDonation of Property.
    Sampurna KrantiTotal revolution.
    SanatanTraditionally remaining in existence from ancient times.
    SanskritisationA process through which the lower castes people seek to imbibe the cultural characteristics of the upper castes people.
    Sapta krantiLiterally meaning ‘seven-revolution’, a notion articulated by Ram Manohar Lohia for reinvigorating the moribund Indian society.
    SaptasindhuThe Indus river system consisting of seven rivers.
    SarvodayaUplift of all the sections of society.
    SatiA cruel system of burning alive a widow along with her dead husband.
    SatyagrahaStubborn seeking of truth.
    SatyagrahiThe practitioner of satyagraha.
    Satyarth PrakashThe classic authored by Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
    Satyashodhak SamajA social reform organisation set up by Jotiba Phule.
    ShadgunasSix war tactics.
    ShariatThe body of Muslim laws.
    ShastrasHoly scriptures of Hindu religion.
    ShrutiA particular set of Hindu religious scriptures.
    ShudrasThe untouchables castes of the Indian society.
    ShudratishudrasThe extreme untouchables amongst the untouchables.
    SmritiA particular set of Hindu religious scriptures.
    SwabhavaInstinct behaviour.
    SwadeshiIndigenously produced or manufactured.
    SwadharmaDuty ordained by self.
    SwatantraveerAn alias used for V.D. Savarkar literally meaning the fighter for independence.
    Tarikh-i-FerozeshahiA text authored by Barani.
    Tritiya RatnaLiterally meaning Third Eye, a play published by Jotiba Phule in 1855.
    UdasinAn indifferent king.
    UpayasThe tricks of peace politics given by Kautilya.
    VairajyaA system of rule by a foreign ruler by occupation.
    VarnaFunctionally distinct class of people.
    Varna systemConceptually, the ancient system of functional division of Indian society into four distinct classes which later on perverted into the caste system.
    VedasThe foundational texts of the Hindu religion.
    VijigishuThe conqueror or the ambitious king.
    Virat PurushaA particular stanza of ancient Hindu law books.
    VisvabhartiThe university set up by Rabindranath Tagore.
    ZawabitMan-made laws.
    Zila PanchayatDistrict Panchayat.

    About the Authors

    Bidyut Chakrabarty is Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Delhi, Delhi. He has over 20 years of teaching experience in the field of political science in India and abroad. He has been Visiting Professor to Iowa University, Iowa City, USA. He was a consultant to a project on Maoism and Governance in India with the Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore. He also occupied the India Chair, Africa-Asian Institute, Hamburg University, Germany.

    Rajendra Kumar Pandey is Assistant Professor (Human Rights) in the Faculty of Islamic Studies and Social Sciences at Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi. He is also associated with the Institute of Life Long Learning, University of Delhi, South Campus, Delhi. He co-authored Indian Government and Politics (2008) with Bidyut Chakrabarty.

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