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Rajesh Sharma

By Perry Anderson
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2012, pp. vi 184, Rs 350.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

The celebrated New Left historian and political essayist Perry Anderson’s latest book The Indian Ideology appears at a time when several mainstream publishers with their assorted wares are proclaiming India’s arrival on the stage of world history. Many of these are truncated histories of the so called arrival which, interestingly, do not go back beyond the 1990s. The self-defined limits are convenient as they sustain faith in the Indian ‘miracle’. Anderson, however, digs farther back, beginning with the country’s anti-colonial struggle under Gandhi’s leadership. His objective is to force into light the historical unconscious of the Indian polity. In the process, he offers quite a few rational, historical explanations of several ‘miracles’, including those of India’s unity as a country and its stability as a democracy. Anderson’s narrative is gripping, suitably spiced here and there, and supported by adequate notes and references that any serious work of history needs. He hammers away delicately but firmly at the gods of modern Indian historiography to undermine the ‘pieties’ (p. 5) that have kept truth a prisoner of darkness for too long now. Invoking Marx and Engels’s German Ideology, Anderson’s book sets out to test the‘idea of India’ against the reality. That ‘idea’, comprising primarily the triune of democracy, secularity and unity, constitutes, according to him, the ideology of the Indian republic. Significantly, the historian in Anderson departs from his acknowledged ‘German’ intellectual predecessors in more clearly articulating ideology as grounded in history—in ‘the conditions and events that generated them’ (p. 2). Yet that does not mean he would deny the crucial agency of political leadership. On the contrary, he sometimes appears, to me at least, to be conceding too much power—among ideology, event and agency—to personal agency as the producer and director of history. The book is based on three essays published in the summer of 2012 in the London Review of Books and is part of Anderson’s forthcoming work on the inter-state system of US, China, Russia, India and Brazil. The case of India, he says, required greater treatment of historical background; hence this book. Anderson comes out as a fiercely polemical historian who nevertheless does not go overboard in bolstering his thesis. His central argument is that the Indian state continues to bask in the memorial glow of the anti-colonial struggle, and this clouds its vision of the reality which ...

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