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Search for a Liberal Political Tradition

Mohinder Singh

Edited and Introduced by Ramchandra Guha
Penguin / Viking, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 549, Rs.799.00


This anthology, Makers of Modern India, edited and introduced by Ramchandra Guha includes selected writings and speeches of the nineteen ‘thinker-activists’ of the past two centuries of Indian history. In October, 2005, Guha had reviewed Amartya Sen’s Argumentative Indian for the EPW. In this review, Guha distinguishes between two traditions of argumentation in India: distant and proximate. In case of Sen’s book, the focus of attention remains the distant tradition of intellectual debate and reasoning, which is largely pre-modern. With this anthology, Guha wants to shift that focus on to a tradition of political thinking and argumentation that he calls proximate tradition, and which according to him is the one that actually shaped the political and social institutions of India and is thus more relevant for dealing with present political concerns. Guha also contests Sen’s claim that pre-modern traditions of arguments shaped modern Indian Constitution or political institutions. Guha seeks to achieve two goals with this anthology: first, to ‘make the Indian experience more central to global debates’ and the second ‘to make Indians more aware of the richness and relevance of their modern political tradition.’ Guha argues in the Prologue that since the end of the Cold War, the old opposition between western democracy and ‘secular totalitariansm’ has been replaced by the new opposition between western ideals and Islamic fundamentalism and the growing market of ‘serious political writing has been invaded by books’ dealing with this opposition. In this market of international public opinion, India has been largely ignored, with the exception of Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian. The nineteen individuals, selections from whose works are included in the Makers of Modern India are: Rammohan Roy, Syed Ahmad Khan, Jyotirao Phule, G. K. Gokhale, B. G. Tilak, Tarabai Shinde, M. K. Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, B. R. Ambedkar, M. A. Jinnah, E. V. Ramaswami, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Jawaharlal Nehru, M. S. Golwalkar, Rammanohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, C. Rajagopalachari, Verrier Elwin, Hamid Dalwai. It has often been noticed by political theorists and the historians of political thought in India that, in contrast with Europe, where historically political thought has had a more philosophical orientation and sought to think about and judge politics from outside the field itself, the distinguishing feature of modern Indian political thought has been that it is constituted by the thoughts of those individuals who also actively participated in politics. Modern Indian political tradition thus has ...

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