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Across The Ideological Canvas

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

Edited by Wendy Doniger  and Martha C. Nussbaum 
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 400, $99.00


This is a volume where the editors lend it gravitas because of their redoubtable scholarship. They are further assisted by twenty essays written mostly by scholars who would invariably be part of a volume like this either because of their previous works and association and thereby justify inclusion in a compendium like this. As the title goes, it provides a wide canvas for the essays to explore wide issues ranging from importance that should be given to history, to importance of poetry in today’s increasingly monosyllabic and geometric world. But because this tome is largely drawn from a conference on Pluralism and Democracy, held at the Center for Contemporary Constitutionalism and the Martin Marry Centre of the University of Chicago, in November 2005, barring the ‘conceptual’ essays by say Amartya Sen (‘The Politics of History’), Mushirul Hasan (‘Pluralism on Trial in Late Nineteenth Century’), Martha Nussbaum (‘Nehru, Religion and the Humanities’) and a few others; there is an inexorable sense of being ‘dated’; when it comes to several essays. As pluralism and democracy have come to be challenged far more than ever before in India since May 2014, a few days after India got a single-party majority government headed by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi, essays that focus on specific events or on the impact of developments remain incomplete as if left midway. Part of the problem stems from the fact that (probably) a volume had to be prepared to mark the conference and securing papers remains a daunting task. There is also the possibility that like many others scholars believing in the ‘innate goodness’ and ‘inherent secularism and commitment to pluralistic ideas’ of the Indian electorate, the contributors—editors onwards—did not trust the claims of the lesser mortals that it was just a matter of time before Modi became Prime Minister and that the only question remained was the extent of the verdict in his favour. The editors have chosen to retain the original text of their Introduction despite the fact that copy-editing was still underway when Modi was already in power. Yet, despite being handicapped by the assessment of the editors that the ascent of Modi was ‘sudden’, the book retains its relevance, if only in a historical manner. Amartya Sen writes on the politics of history but the centrality of his essay is devoted to repudiating an argument presented by Ram Guha while reviewing Sen’s ...

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