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The Idea of India

20th Anniversary Edition

Sunil Khilnani

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Idea of India Download image

ISBN10: 0374537623
ISBN13: 9780374537623

Trade Paperback

304 Pages


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Fifty years ago the British divided and departed from their most prized imperial possession, handing over the new Indian state to a small nationalist elite led by Jawaharlal Nehru. The new country was then driven by a belief in a political construct, the idea of India, an idea that for decades animated the citizens' efforts to unite their huge, diverse, and poor society and to transform it into a modern state fit to join the irreversible movement of world history.

Khilnani addresses the paradoxes and ironies that have surrounded this project of inventing India—a project that has brought Indians considerable political freedom and carried their enormous democracy to the verge of being Asia's greatest free state but that has also left many of them in poverty and that is now threatened by divisive religious nationalism. His historical analysis conveys modern India's energy, fluidity, and unpredictability—in its democracy and its voting patterns, in its visions of economic development, in its diverse cities and devotion to village culture, and in its current disputes over its political identity. Throughout, he provokes and illuminates this fundamental question: Can the original idea of India survive its own successes?


Praise for The Idea of India

"A rich analysis of contemporary India and its evolution since independence . . . Splendid and timely."—Amartya Sen, The Times Literary Supplement

"Especially brilliant is Khilnani's attempt to understand the changing nature of India by studying its urban constructs, both architectural and socioeconomic."—Chitra Divakaruni, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Khilnani writes with illuminating dexterity, wit, and compassion, and India springs to life though his words."—Judith M. Brown, The New York Times Book Review

"Especially brilliant is Khilnani's attempt to understand the chaning nature of India by studying its urban constructs, both architectural and socioeconomic."—Chitra Divakaruni, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A masterful rebuttal to all cultural romantics and religious chauvinists . . . [A] splendid book about definitions of the Indian nation."—Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books

"A short and brilliant book [which] is difficult to praise too highly . . . it manages in the space of two hundred pages to identify, unravel and explain many of the complexities of modern India."—David Gilmour, The Independent

"A profound meditation on the meaning and significance of India, which, Khilnani argues, has a far wider relevance than it is conventional to suppose. The relevance comes in part, of course, from the fact that India is the most populous democracy in the world and that it, unlike most of the countries that became independent in the postwar period, remained a democracy, with the exception of a 22- month 'emergency' imposed by Indira Gandhi. This is curious, because there was little in India's history to prepare it for democracy, and its independence caused the fearful bloodletting of Partition, when Pakistan broke away. Khilnani calls Partition 'the unspeakable sadness at the heart of the idea of India,' which raises the question of whether it was a division of one territory between two nations or peoples, or the breaking of one civilization into two territories. He believes that the survival of democracy is largely attributable to Nehru's exemplary adherence to democratic and parliamentary procedures during his long ascendency from 1947 to 1964 and that democracy has now 'irreversibly entered the Indian political imagination.' But the understanding of democracy has changed. Government have become more centralized and powerful, the stakes have become much higher, the studious secularism and religious tolerance of the earlier period have become more tenuous, and violence has grown. Democracy has come to mean adherence to the electoral process. In his most perceptive essays, Khilnani explores this new conception and what it now means to be an Indian . . . An intelligent, well-written, and original contribution to the analysis of a country that, perhaps because it has been a good deal less troublesome than China, has received disproportionately less attention."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Sunil Khilnani

Sunil Khilnani is the author of Incarnations: A History of India in Fifty Lives and Arguing Revolution: The Intellectual Left in Postwar France. He is the Avantha Professor and Director of the India Institute at King’s College London and a visiting professor at Princeton University. He is married to the writer Katherine Boo.

Sheetal Mallar

Sunil Khilnani

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