The rebirth of a nation

From The Guardian:

Misra Vishnu’s Crowded Temple
by Maria Misra.

Misra, who teaches modern history at Oxford, has undertaken an ambitious project. She attempts to telescope more than 150 years of India’s history into this book and tries to show, as she tells us in its closing pages, ‘how India has developed its peculiar form of modernity, the most striking feature of which is its highly atomised, fragmented and diverse citizenry’. At the heart of her book are the sections on the two men seen as central to the story of modern India: Mahatma Gandhi, the most prominent leader of the nationalist movement and known as the father of the nation, and his protege, Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become India’s first Prime Minister. Misra is unfairly harsh on Gandhi, seeing him as idiosyncratic, traditionalist and with a gift for combining political shrewdness with a sense of self-promotion and opportunism.

She has unmixed admiration for Nehru, who she sees as the opposite of Gandhi in many ways: ‘He differed from Gandhi in the most important question of the age: modernity. While Gandhi romanticised the Indian past, both real and imagined, Nehru was in love with the future. Gandhi decried the Raj as the harbinger of modernity, while for Nehru it was the detested heart of the ancien regime. Nehru was a technophile, a religious agnostic, cosmopolitan in his tastes and an instinctive internationalist; the Mahatma was the opposite.’ The template of pluralism that is the key to India’s enduring democracy, Misra argues, was conceptualised and laid out by Nehru. And she sees that – and the foresight and vision that implies – as his biggest contribution. ‘Nehru’s goal was to make a virtue of India’s variety by creating the world’s first self-consciously multicultural modern nation state.’

More here.