For far too long, a certain notion or ‘idea of India’ had captured the central space across the sociopolitical discourse of the country and unlike most theories, this idea has not been updated for the last several decades. As a result, most of the talk surrounding anything that has to do with India is based on a notional foundation that has largely remained unchallenged.
Therefore, one can see, ironically enough, how thoughts and concepts that exist in an unreal plane continue to be the fount of ideas to navigate the real world. Rajeev Mantri and Harsh Madhusudan’s A New Idea of India challenges this status quo by offering an in-depth analysis of the Indian experience since the Independence and the way ahead. It is based on not only what past mistakes ailed us but also insights from India’s great civilisation legacy that was largely ignored by the punditocracy.
Much of the popular sociopolitical writing in India tends to miss one key aspect that led to the way policy was framed since the country’s independence in 1947. The clarion call given by India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was to build a new India but as ‘India’ did exist for centuries before the famous ‘tryst with destiny’, much of the lands and its people’s civilisational identity was disregarded.
One would not be incorrect in saying that the difference between ‘navanirman’ and ‘punarnirvan’ is what ended up playing a big factor in not only the framing but also the implementation of the policy. The trajectory chosen at the onset of the republic put India squarely on the path of Communism, and the outcome was for all to see. Mantri and Madhusudan highlight how the sway of the political dispensation over policy and its push for socialism, secularism and non-alignment, sacrificed India’s civilisational legacy.
A result to articles and columns written by the two authors over the course of a decade, A New Idea of India offers a fresh perspective to view how for nearly 70 years India’s socialist policies led to corruption and stagnation of the nation. Each generation has its definition of the idea of India and the common thread that binds them all is how the preceding lot often laments that its successors’ for completely disregarding the past. This is perhaps a trait that was often showcased by Nehru, who rarely placed any premium of the civilisational legacy. One can get an idea of what India’s first Prime Minister thought of fellow citizens from his belief that he was ‘civilising a savage world’ that he used in correspondence with his niece Nayantara Sahgal.
The book explores the rich past of India and brings the concept of a civilisational republic to the centre of the debate. It is a must-read volume that presses the reset button on liberal versus conservative debate. For long many have been made to believe that free markets and a competent State cannot co-exist. It is also believed that anything that questions socialism is against the idea of India.
However, the fact that the word ‘socialism’ was inserted into the Constitution of India by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1976 when the Parliament was not in session and bulk of the opposition was jailed during the Emergency is forgotten. Rajeev Mantri and Harsh Madhusudan articulate India’s great traditions via the aspect of individual rights and freedom and add a long overdue and much-needed viewpoint for today’s generation.