Makers of Modern India, edited by acclaimed Indian historian Ramachandra Guha, is a terrific addition to the growing body of work on India’s founders. More than just a compilation of excerpts from selected writings by India’s foremost political figures and theorists, this excellent book gives a sense of how the extraordinarily rich trove of work that these influential Indians produced between roughly 1830 and 1970 helped shape India and continues to inform Indians.
This impressive book helps fill a gap—Indian political philosophy—that perhaps only Amartya Sen has done justice to in his wonderfully engaging book, The Argumentative Indian (2005). Yet Sen’s book deals mostly with ancient and premodern philosophical traditions, whereas Guha’s is squarely focused on modern Indian political philosophers who directly impacted India in their own time. Guha observes that “[India’s] leading politicians were its leading political thinkers” (1), who also happened to write a great deal, Gandhi being the most prolific of the bunch.
1. Guha’s grasp of non-Indian history, especially US history, is perhaps dubious. He argues that no Indian thinkers had the kind of “canonical status” that Lenin and Mao enjoyed in their countries, when, of course, these two figures created dictatorships that allowed for the emergence of cults of personality. Guha perhaps jumps the gun when he suggests that, as President of the United States, Barack Obama is the equal of Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt (3).