Preface Himanshu Roy – Indian Political Thought, 2nd Edition


Himanshu Roy


In the past five years, since the publication of the first edition of this book, there is a substantive change in the scholarly awareness about the Indian political thought in the academia and among the reading public. It is reflected in the new publications and in the new kinds of interpretations of political ideas of the past. It is also reflected in the new syllabi and courses designed by academic institutions. More importantly, there are new insights and enrichment of contents through interdisciplinary matrices. This awareness, none the less, remains confined to mainly modern political thinkers, who were primarily activists in the anti-colonial movement. The pre-colonial arena remained largely untouched and disassociated with the mainstream Indian political thought except for Kautilya. In the past half decade or more, new thinkers of mainly pre-colonial years, who were earlier read as part of the discipline of history, literature and theology with their disciplinary matrices has been included with the focus on their political ideas. Buddha, Manu, Zia Barani, Abul Fazl, Kabir are representatives of this emerging trend.

In the second edition, we have focused on this genre by incorporating eight new political thinkers of which six are of pre-colonial years whose political social ideas are reflected here in their works. Buddha, Thiruvalluvar, Basava, Kabir, Vemana and Tulsi are part of this endeavour. The other two, Narayan Guru and Tilak, are of late 19th and early 20th century. They were social-political activists who deeply impacted the people of their regions. Many of them are known today as saint-poets, social reformers or religious gods. Among them, despite wide span of time, there is a common running theme of justice, governance and equality for which they lead an emancipatory praxis in the society and were also critical of administration of their times, and suggested measures for better governance. The most radical among them was Kabir who was against the state, property relations and structural social divisions; and the one who reflected on the emergence of the state and on private property, the earliest among them, was Buddha. Thriruvalluvar was the most comprehensive in his suggestions like Kautilya and Zia Barani on the ideal kingship, diplomacy, polity, management, etc. Unfortunately, none of them, among the pre-colonial thinkers, wrote texts except for Tulsidas whose manuscripts still exist. Their ‘works’ – dohas, baanis, vachans, couplets – were compiled and recorded much later, after their deaths, which lead to interpolations. As a matter of fact, the very composition and existence of ‘their’ works have been doubted. As they were bards, public intellectuals, reformers, it was inevitable for different interpretations of their works to have emerged over different generations in different regions at the time of being recorded. The recorded versions, therefore had the possibility of being different from the original. But despite this skepticism, their ideas reflect the ideas of the age which was universal as the thinkers transcended their social barriers to actuate it in praxis of emancipation.

It was difficult for my colleagues to transcend the disciplinary limitations to construct and posit a derivative discourse on the political ideas of pre-colonial and colonial bhakti poets. It was an equally herculean work to locate, collate, distil and unravel the political from the camouflage of bhakti. Bhakti was a protest of the time; but it was expressed in religious-cultural forms in absence of civil-democratic space. It was also a reflection of everyday protest of peasantry and of others in different forms. This protest was political, and was required to be projected as such. But it needed an insight to delineate the political from the idiom of the bhakti which was distilled and posited in crystallized forms under different rubrics by the contributors.

Thus, the political ideas of the bhakti poets, added here in the second edition of the book, are rare to locate elsewhere in print. We thank our colleagues for their brilliant works. We also thank Kaushal Jajware and Sailza Kumari for this updated and revised second edition.