16 Essential Books on Indian Political Thought

Books on Political Thought
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Every country and society can be viewed and understood through different perspectives. Political thought is perhaps one of the, if not the most mainstream, ways to understand how a culture and nation were shaped through the centuries. In today’s article, we’ll explore some must-read books on Indian political thought, encompassing ancient philosophies, colonial struggles, and contemporary analyses. While we aim to create comprehensive lists, there’s always scope for improvement. If you think a title should’ve been included in this list but isn’t, comment below and let us know!

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Books on Indian Political Thought

Modern Indian Political Thought: Text and Context

Title: Modern Indian Political Thought: Text and Context

Author: Bidyut Chakrabarty and Rajendra Kumar Pandey

Publisher: Taylor & Francis Books India Pvt. Ltd Next

Price: 995

Pages: 398

Blurb:

The first in our list of books on Indian political thought, this book shows how political thought in the country evolved during the anti-colonial, nationalist struggle. Modern Indian Political Thought shows how socio-economic movements have intersected with mainstream nationalism, creating subaltern political thinking strands. The authors interpret the ideas of key thinkers by placing them in their socio-economic and politico-cultural contexts, which ultimately results in a nuanced study.

The book also looks at how the British constitutional devices influenced Indian society and its many socio-economic issues. The book also paves the way for new research in the field by encouraging a detailed and contextual discussion. For anyone interested in exploring books on Indian political thought and history, this is unmissable.

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Indian Political Thought: A Reader

Title: Indian Political Thought: A Reader

Author: Aakash Rathore and Silika Mohapatra (editors)

Publisher: Routledge

Price: 7628

Pages: 310

Blurb:

Highlighting the contributions of other disciplines to Indian political thought, like sociology, anthropology, law, history, philosophy, and feminist and postcolonial theory, the book brings a multifaceted perspective. It’s an essential guide to contemporary Indian political theory, looking at the major ideas and scholars through the years.

It includes themes peculiar to the Indian political landscape, like communalism, tradition, and secularism, while addressing the universal ideas of justice and human rights. It’s a comprehensive framework that provides a holistic look at Indian political thought for scholars and students alike. Our second selection in essential books of Indian political thought is ideal for both students and researchers.

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The Indian Ideology

Title: The Indian Ideology

Author: Perry Anderson

Publisher: Verso

Price: 1400

Pages: 272

Blurb:

The next entry in our selection of books on Indian political thought will certainly provoke and force you to think beyond conventional certainties. Challenging the mainstream narratives of modern Indian history, Perry Anderson deconstructs the all-too-often celebrated glorified image of India as a centre of democracy, unity and religious nonpartisanship. From the Independence and Partition to the modern political landscape under Narendra Modi, he highlights the deep-seated caste inequalities in Indian democracy. 

He doesn’t shy away at any point, critiquing figures from Gandhi to Nehru and presenting their flaws comprehensively. Another sharp critique is the lack of mainstream discourse on Kashmir’s occupation. Each society and country has uncomfortable truths, whether present or past and, as citizens, we have to look them straight in the eye and try to improve.

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Debating Difference: Group Rights and Liberal Democracy in India

Title: Debating Difference: Group Rights and Liberal Democracy in India

Author: Rochana Bajpai

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Price: 499

Pages: 338

Blurb:

Among books on Indian Political Thought, Debating Differences stands apart for its in-depth exploration of minority rights at the dawn of Indian independence. How do you reconcile group inequalities with the principles of common citizenship in a liberal democracy? It’s an arduous task, one Rochana takes on. Focusing on the Indian Constituent Assembly debates from 1946 to 1949, the book analyses how India’s founding fathers struggled with the issues of minority rights and quotas.

Reconstructing legislative debates to show the interplay between secularism, democracy, social justice, national unity, and development, Bajpai brings alive the many historical contexts while explaining the post-independence group rights. He challenges Western-centric views of multiculturalism, showing how India’s democratic values are far more sophisticated and inclusive than conventional knowledge would have us believe.

The book is essential reading for anyone interested in constitutional history, political theory, or the ongoing global discourse on multiculturalism.

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Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment

Title: Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment

Author: Akeel Bilgrami

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Price: 7301

Pages: 416

Blurb:

Our next choice in books on Indian political thought simplifies a topic often mired in complexity and controversy: secularism. More specifically, it discusses the interplay between secularism and identity in an era with increasingly polarized perspectives. Bilgrami critiques staunch secularists and their detractors, as well as liberal universalists and multicultural relativists.

Bilgrami examines the very foundations of secularism, challenging both universalist arguments and colonial interpretations. With a diagnostic approach, he also analyses why Islamic identity often mobilizes against liberalism, taking the example of the response against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and proposing a philosophical framework for reconciling these tensions.

He also addresses the rising appeal of religion in a world disenchanted by a detached modern outlook. His notion of “enchantment,” explored through different lenses (metaphysical, ethical, and political), searches for meaning within secular modernity. Whether you agree or not, it’s a thought-provoking read, like the best books on Indian political thought.

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The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World

Title: The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World

Author: Partha Chatterjee

Publisher: Columbia University Press

Price: 2400

Pages: 200

Blurb:

With The Politics of the Governed, Partha Chatterjee argues that identity politics, particularly in the postcolonial context, is deeply rooted in governmental administration techniques. With examples, he depicts the complex interplay between administrative policies and ethnic identities.

Partha brilliantly contextualizes contemporary political issues within historical frameworks to show how colonial legacies continue shaping democratic processes in postcolonial societies. The book also focuses on the politics of marginalized groups in postcolonial societies, including India. He explores how these groups engage with state institutions and fit in the political landscape.

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Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society

Title: Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society

Author: Ranajit Guha (editor)

Publisher: Oxford

Price: 4180

Pages: 3140

Blurb:

Ranajit Guha’s The Subaltern Studies series is monumental to the field of South Asian history and post-colonial studies. Focusing on the stories of marginalised groups, this collection of essays has influenced academic discourse over the years. But beyond that, it has also resonated with non-specialist readers globally, notable in regions with parallel histories of subjugation like Latin America.

Each of these books on Indian political thought has been written with interdisciplinarity and intellectual rigour, with fresh perspectives on power dynamics and resistance. The essays weave together subaltern experiences that challenge dominant historiographies. While they reshape our understanding of Indian history and politics, they also force us to reconsider how we approach historical narratives in the first place.

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Politics and Ethics of the Indian Constitution

Title: Politics and Ethics of the Indian Constitution

Author: Rajeev Bhargava (editor)

Publisher: Oxford

Price: 482

Pages: 409

Blurb:

The next part of our list of books on Indian political thought by Rajeev Bhargava dissects the core values of the Indian Constitution: equality, democracy, property, citizenship, and welfare. Various scholars and academics come together to show how these values have evolved to shape contemporary Indian society. Questioning the political and ethical foundations of the Constitution, they also chart ways to adapt them to modern realities.

Unlike many books on Indian political thought, this one isn’t limited to theoretical insights. Instead, it pairs them with practical suggestions for modifying the Constitution to better serve modern India. This is a constructive critique that would be valuable to scholars and practitioners interested in how politics and ethics intersect in the Indian democratic framework.

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Hind Swaraj

Title: Hind Swaraj

Author: Mahatma Gandhi

Publisher: Rajpal & Sons

Price: 99

Pages: 84

Blurb:

One of the best texts to understand Mahatma Gandhi better (for aren’t first-hand accounts the best sources to understand/analyze a person?), Hind Swaraj, written in 1909, is one of the foundational texts on Indian political thought. It’s structured as a dialogue between the ‘Editor’ and the ‘Reader,’ critiquing Western civilization’s materialism and industrialization. The book depicts Gandhi’s vision of Swaraj (self-rule). The idea of Swaraj goes beyond political independence to include self-discipline, self-restraint, and self-reliance.

Gandhi endorses returning to India’s traditional values: simplicity, ahimsa (non-violence), and satya (truth). He asserts that true freedom can be achieved only through Satyagraha (non-violent resistance). This philosophy was the backbone of the Indian independence movement, inspiring many social justice leaders and movements across the world. 

Simultaneously, the text is criticised (rightly so) for its conservative casteist and sexiest views and its rejection of modern tech. Despite its shortcomings, it’s one of the most important books on Indian political thought to understand Gandhi’s political and social perspectives.

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The Penguin Sri Aurobindo Reader

Title: The Penguin Sri Aurobindo Reader

Author: Makarand Paranjape (editor)

Publisher: Penguin Random House India

Price: 322

Pages: 400

Blurb:

A political revolutionary, social critic, poet, yogi, and spiritual teacher: Sri Aurobindo played numerous roles throughout his life. While his interpretations of the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita are incredible, his original philosophy is even more intriguing. He combined ancient Indian philosophy with a modern evolutionary perspective. He proposed that humans are destined to ascend to a higher level of consciousness and reach the final stage of evolution.

Edited by Makarand Paranjape, this collection includes a selection of his writings, from the early Independence struggle essays to texts depicting his evolving religious and philosophical thought. With letters, poems, and aphorisms, the book shows Aurobindo’s intellectual range and shows the many facets of his thought and personality. It’s one of the most profound books on Indian political thought, helping you understand a brilliant mind and a major personality of modern India.

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The Political Life of Memory: Birsa Munda in Contemporary India

Title: The Political Life of Memory: Birsa Munda in Contemporary India

Author: Rahul Ranjan

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Price: 1095

Pages: 320

Blurb:

Yes, there are great memorials and statues raised for Birsa Munda, but are they a complete representation of his legacy or do they represent a selective narrative? Rahul argues how these sites affect everyday politics and, in turn, the larger political visions and opportunities. The Political Life of Memory shows how both the state and Adivasi communities treat memory as a political tool to claim the historical legacy of the Birsa movement.

Past shapes our present and future; that’s a given. But how? Rahul analyses that from a political perspective, depicting how history is used to serve the political ends of today. This segment of our list of books on Indian political thought is perfect for anyone interested in anti-colonial movements, memory studies, or Jharkhand’s political history.

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The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar

Title: The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar

Author: Valerian Rodrigues (editor)

Publisher: Oxford

Price: 539

Pages: 572

Blurb:

You can’t create a list of books on Indian political thought without Ambedkar. His importance and relevance to Indian politics and society are immeasurable. Edited by Valerian Rodrigues, this book is an exploration of his life and works. Spanning forty years and eleven sections, the book is duly supported by citations and references with suggestions for further reading.

These writings reflect his resolute struggle against untouchability and casteism while redefining the nationalist discourse. This comprehensive book collects his ideologies and perspectives in one place, presenting his ideas on numerous issues. It’s one of the ideal books on Indian political thought for students and scholars, helping them understand Ambedkar and his impact on Indian society and polity.

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Rethinking Indian Political Institutions

Title: Rethinking Indian Political Institutions

Author: Crispin Bates and Subho Basu (editors)

Publisher: Anthem Press

Price: 500

Pages: 262

Blurb:

Our institutional dynamics directly shape Indian politics. To understand Indian politics, therefore, needs a thorough examination of these institutions, including the judiciary, bureaucracy and parliamentary system. Our next stop on the books on Indian political thought does just that. Rethinking Indian Political Institutions simplifies the tangled and complex state-society dynamics. With essays from various scholars and researchers, the book explains the many facets of Indian governance, from urban planning and individual rights to cable TV networks and political rhetoric.

These institutions, despite their relationship with the democratic system, remain largely stable and flexible, resolving intense conflicts, whether at the national or village level. The book shows how the resilience and elasticity of Indian political institutions keep the country going in a period where state failures are all too common. If you’re interested in books on political thought that cover both the theory and practice of governance in India, Rethinking Indian Political Institutions would be a great choice.

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Virtue And Human Ends: Political Ideas From Indian Classics

Title: Virtue And Human Ends: Political Ideas From Indian Classics

Author: Vasanthi Srinivasan

Publisher: Orient BlackSwan

Price: 685

Pages: 216

Blurb:

Although written for the politically elite class, classics like Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Vetala Panchavimshati, and Arthashastra speak to common readers even today. While they won’t usually be considered books on Indian political thought, Vasanthi shows the inherent political messaging throughout these texts. She shows how these books contain themes of governance, statecraft, and realpolitik, with messages relevant to the modern political discourse.

While scholarly in approach, Virtue and Human Ends is accessible to all readers. It shows the lasting wisdom of these classics and tries to prove why they’re crucial to understanding and resolving 21st-century challenges. It’s a multifaceted perspective on the art of governance and the nature of humanity.

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Political Thought in Modern India

Title: Political Thought in Modern India

Author: Thomas Pantham, Kenneth L Deutsch (editors)

Publisher: Sage India

Price: 472

Pages: 368

Blurb:

Through twenty original essays, Political Thought in Modern India covers the major figures and movements of a nation in the making. From Rammohun Roy to BR Ambedkar, from Hindu nationalism to the Sarvodaya movement, the book covers these ideologies and their ideologues with their socio-historical contexts. One of the earlier books on Indian political thought, the book stresses the importance of combining the two mainstream currents in Indian political thought: adapting Western traditions or searching for indigenous alternatives.

These essays also show the global relevance of Indian political ideas, particularly those of Gandhi. This balanced approach helps comprehensively present the evolution of Indian political thought. It’s an important milestone among books on Indian political thought and is still widely read by students and scholars alike.

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Foundations of Indian Political Thought

Title: Foundations of Indian Political Thought

Author: V. R. Mehta

Publisher: Taylor & Francis

Price: 325

Pages: 306

Blurb:

Searching for foundational books on Indian political thought? VR Mehta’s text is the ideal place to begin. A classic text of Indian political philosophy, it shows the rich interplay between political concepts and larger philosophical ideas in India. The book analyses how the Indian political state is an ongoing tradition of inquiry instead of a static account. Mehta stresses that this tradition embodies plural and contradictory practices, representing a dynamic discourse overall. 

Many scholarly works tend to focus on one or the other: politics, philosophy, or society. The interdisciplinary approach here creates a nuanced understanding of the Indian state and its many aspects. It’s one of the essential books on Indian political thought for students and scholars to better understand society and its underlying philosophy.

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Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh doesn't know what to do with his life, so he writes. He also doesn't know what to write, so he reads. Gift him a book if you chance upon him and he'll love you forever.

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