If you’re looking for an in-depth but accessible crash course on Indian politics, check out Perry Anderson’s trio of essays published in the summer of 2012 in London Review of Books, covering the ideologies and roles of key figures like Gandhi and Nehru, the complex religious politics of South Asia and how they evolved over the course of the independence movement, the centrality of caste, the various postcolonial insurgencies, and so on.
Some of the general arguments I find questionable, particularly the idea that the exit of the British Empire from South Asia was “inevitable”. But overall, the essays are a fantastic dissection and critique of prevailing tendencies of India’s political elites. Gandhi is shown to have helped laid the roots of communal violence in the way he infused the anti-imperialist movement with religion, and the Indian National Congress is shown to be a party of mostly upper-caste Hindu elites, whose politicking undermined inter-communal solidarity and class politics. A spotlight is shone on the protracted and extremely bloody military occupations in Kashmir and Nagaland. The fractured landscape of caste and religion is dissected, as is the way this fracturing affects prevailing nationalist ideologies, and influences various electoral coalitions.
While not discussed in much depth, Anderson elevated Subhas Chandra Bose, casting him as the only pre-independence nationalist leader of widespread popularity who could have united the subcontinent across religious lines, and someone of much more intellectual prowess than either Gandhi or Nehru — all of which makes it even more tragic that he was ultimately pushed out of INC leadership in the late 1930s, and was killed in a plane crash in the 1940s.
Subhas Chandra Bose, the only leader Congress ever produced who united Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in a common secular struggle, and would have most threatened [Nehru], lay buried in Taiwan: the political landscape of postwar India would not have been the same had he survived.
Here are some of the books that Anderson referenced that I have thrown onto my reading list:
- His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle Against Empire (2012)
- Forgotten Wars: Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia (2010)
- India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (2008)
- The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2009)
- Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay: Assessing the Economic Rise of China and India (2012)
- Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India (2007)