Cover: Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India, from Harvard University PressCover: Righteous Republic in HARDCOVER

Righteous Republic

The Political Foundations of Modern India

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$51.00 • £44.95 • €46.95

ISBN 9780674048959

Publication Date: 10/31/2012


368 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

1 line illustration, 1 map


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Most historians credit liberal ideas from Britain, absorbed by the Western-oriented Indian elite, with giving birth to modern India. (The Congress Party of Gandhi and Nehru was founded at the suggestion of A.O. Hume, a British civil servant, in 1885.) Few are aware of the extent to which nationalist leaders turned to Indic texts to revive Indians’ sense of collective selfhood, and how extensively these shaped their own political practice and the country’s post-independence social compact.—Sudha Koul, The Wall Street Journal

Ananya Vajpeyi’s Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India radically advances our understanding of political traditions in a major non-western country.—Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian

Ananya Vajpeyi’s Righteous Republic is quite simply the most important interpretation of the evolution of India’s contemporary nationhood since Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India, and a useful antidote to the revisionist Imperialism of rising British star-historians like Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson… Fluently written, cogent in argument, studded with penetrating insights, telling aphorisms, with complete mastery of her material, consistently brilliant expression and exposition, this young philosopher-historian takes her definitive place as a commentator and synthesizer of the often varied and contradictory approaches to the idea of India.—Mani Shankar Aiyar, Financial Express

Ananya Vajpeyi’s Righteous Republic is a unique addition to the discourse around the themes of India’s negotiation with its colonial past and its present political framework… Vajpeyi excels at what she does in the present volume, however, and the book is informed with high standards of intellectual rigour, analytical acuity and—last but certainly not the least—an eminently readable, nearly jargon-free prose.—Suparna Banerjee, The Hindu

Righteous Republic makes an important contribution to the existing literature and should be read by those who truly want to understand more about the past and present in Indian political thought. This carefully crafted and lucidly written book moves beyond exploring the contemporary essence of Indian thought by looking into a vast array of ideas on democracy, culture, religion, ethnic traditions, nationalist aspirations and identities. It is in all a fine piece of literary scholarship that gives readers an opportunity to engage in sustained and in-depth exploration of a subject that has received scant treatment by scholars.—Vidhu Verma, The Book Review

What Vajpeyi’s analysis does so admirably is to deepen our grasp of how the category of the Indian self, which serves as the basis for what is Indian about ‘the people,’ came to be imagined by the makers of modern India. Just as American connotations of terms like ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ are deeply embedded in the American history of slavery, empire, and capitalism, Vajpeyi’s analysis provides us with an approach for grasping the conceptual vocabulary shaped by India’s history of colonialism and nationalism.—Vivek Bhandari, Democratic World

An engaging intellectual history that helps us better understand 21st-century India. Vajpeyi examines five giants involved in the founding of the republic in 1950—Mohandas Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhimrao Ambedkar—who all drew inspiration from indigenous traditions as they strove to craft a postcolonial Indian identity.—Jeff Kingston, The Japan Times

Brilliant and extremely engaging… Through a potent combination of close literary reading and excellent sociopolitical and methodological analysis, Vajpeyi puts forward a coherent narrative, which is the story of the formulation of the Indian intellectual self… [A] lucid and original argument.—Angshukanta Chakraborty, Millennium Post

In this inspiring and ambitious work, Ananya Vajpeyi charts out an innovative and fresh path to approach the idea of modern India, one that especially shines because of its ingenuity and simplicity… The project is especially unique because there has been no tradition of thinking about the notion of the self, especially in a political sense, in India… Vajpeyi has given us a compelling argument to rethink the political foundations of modern India. Indeed, Vajpeyi’s work convincingly illustrates that India’s precolonial past matters as much as its colonial history.—Arvind Elangovan, Journal of Asian Studies

Swaraj: a word pervasive in the Indian philological lexicon, originating from the Sanskrit swa, meaning ‘of the self,’ and rajya—rule. The matter of deciding its true meaning from the combination of its two root verbs should be simple and yet, as Ananya Vajpeyi reveals in her first book on modern India’s political foundations, it all depends on different perceptions of national duty. Vajpeyi’s unique spin on the topic has her examining the classical sources of inspiration behind the teachings of five of India’s most significant founding figures: Mohandas Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, his nephew Abanindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, and BR Ambedkar. The ‘righteous republic’ based on self-rule, under Vajpeyi’s close study, divulges its interwoven web mixing Sanskrit poetry, Buddhist teachings, the legacies of the Emperor Ashoka and Mughal dynasties of the past, and even the Bhagavad Gita, each having played a key role in shaping the political visions of these icons. Despite confessing to the self-perceived inadequacy of her completed work in her conclusion, there is scarcely a fault regarding the author’s zest for the subject, a plus point that proves effective in rousing this reader’s own interest.—Noori Passela, The National

[An] extraordinarily ambitious and remarkable book… Vajpeyi’s engagement with these seminal figures for modern Indian political thought is scaffolded on a set of unequivocally stated foundational claims that challenge many of the cherished principles governing the study of South Asia in the Indian and Anglo-American academies… Vajpeyi reads each founding father’s deeply felt engagement with tradition, at once cerebral and visceral, through the lens of key concepts that are, importantly, not just political but aesthetic, ethical, moral, and spiritual… Each reading, to which a chapter is devoted, is a masterpiece, combining careful philological and historical work, deft close reading, and incisive political analysis and brimming with astonishing, often counter-intuitive insights… Provocative, brilliant, and erudite, a magnificent reading of readings, Righteous Republic itself stands as a foundational work of scholarship.—Rohit Chopra, The Sunday Guardian

Vajpeyi is a close and interpretative reader of texts and of paintings. She strives always to be original and writes evocatively. Readers looking for definitive answers will be disappointed. Vajpeyi demands that her readers join her in the journey towards the dark cave of meaning.—Rudrangshu Mukherjee, The Telegraph

Vajpeyi’s quest for the sources of India’s freedom struggle parts ways with traditional historiography on the subject in ways that renders her work unique and groundbreaking… For Vajpeyi, India’s quest for freedom was as much a moral struggle for selfhood as for political freedom… Righteous Republic is a riveting story of five men’s journeys of India’s rich past through their ‘readings’ of texts and artifacts to discover those categories that would flesh out for them the laden ambiguities of ‘swaraj.’ Vajpeyi pulls the reader into uncharted territory, as these five men search and then find what they were looking for not in the dominant western discursive categories that they hadbeen exposed to, but in a pre-modern lexicon… Outstanding scholarship, imbued with modest passion and effortless originality.—Ashoak Upadhyay, Business Line

[Vajpeyi] weaves the strands of self and sovereignty together to argue that Indian nationalism was a moral project to create a righteous republic distinguished by its ‘solid plinth of moral selfhood and ethical sovereignty,’ without which India would be just another state.—Kranti Saran, Business Standard

Ananya Vajpeyi’s Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India is a book that everyone interested in the evolution of the ideas that shaped the modern Indian nation should read.—Manjula Narayan, Hindustan Times

[Vajpeyi] reads the search for the self through five founders of modern India: Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, and the Tagores, Rabindranath and his nephew Abanindranath… This is a book that must be read, not just for its arguments, which are innovative, and not just for its language, which is evocative, but for its singular achievement in making the familiar unfamiliar, and for demanding the asking of new questions.—Manu Bhagavan, IBN Live

Righteous Republic is compelling reading about India and its ideological moorings in the making of, during and through the independence movement… Righteous Republic is a book of its own kind, written by a historian; it circumambulates multiple disciplinary terrains: art history, cultural criticism, literary theory, religious studies, and political and cultural history. It also uses poetry, paintings, murals, religious texts and archaeological finds for narrative and analysis. And yet, in covering multiple canvasses in drawing up a complex picture, Vajpeyi does not lose the focus of her research design. A complex subject, dealt with in a multidisciplinary perspective, explained with original and evocative arguments, yet written in lucid and imaginative language, the book is essential reading not only for professional social scientists, but also for anyone interested in comprehending India’s ideological moorings in a fresh perspective.—Ajay K. Mehra, India International Centre Quarterly

This is a must read for those interested in India’s modern intellectual history.—Gitanjali Surendran, Indian Express

This is an important book because it takes the discourse on Indian history beyond the realm of politics and sociology and dips into ideas, in particular, the arts.—Salil Tripathi, Mint

This is a book that is original, insightful and quirky.—Swapan Dasgupta, Outlook

Magisterial.—Mani Shankar Aiyar, Outlook India

It is certainly not a book to be taken lightly. Ananya [Vajpeyi] delves deep into India’s past to explain the ideas of these five thinkers who had such a profound impact on the independence movement.—Mark Tully, Resurgence & Ecologist

Righteous Republic creates a ground from which the moral in modern Indian conceptions of selfhood and the founding moment of the sovereign Republic can possibly be thought anew.—Tridip Suhrud, Seminar

Magisterial.—Veena Das and Shalini Randeria, Socio

What emerges from Righteous Republic is a sense of the intellectual ferment in India from the turn of the 20th century up to Independence; the sense of men, not just the five in the book, thinking up and imagining a country, rather than just being handed one by the British. The book is as much literary and art criticism as it is history, requiring of Vajpeyi some agile reading. She makes connections her five principals themselves may not have made, particularly in her excellent chapter of Abanindranath Tagore, making us consider afresh men and ideas to which we seem to have become inured.—Shougat Dasgupta, Tehelka

‘Swaraj,’ the key term in Indian nationalism, refers to the self. But what is this self that is the subject of Indian self-rule? Ananya Vajpeyi retraces the field of modern Indian political thought to analyze the answers offered by five canonical figures. Her work is original, acute, sensitive, frequently unconventional, and always delightfully readable.—Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University

In a series of sophisticated and original readings, Ananya Vajpeyi paints an arresting picture of the moral imaginary inside the tradition of modern Indian political thought. Against the grain of much recent interpretation, Vajpeyi argues that modern Indian political thought should be read not through Western categories like freedom, equality, and independence, but through subtle, underlying Indian categories—swaraj, viraha, samvega, dharma, artha, and duhkha. Righteous Republic offers an original and subtle re-reading of a familiar field, and persuades us to view it in a different light.—Sudipta Kaviraj, Columbia University

A thoroughly original, high-quality, and pathbreaking contribution to Indian intellectual history.—Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Centre for Policy Research

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