The poverty of Indian political theory

In Aakash Singh & Silika Mohapatra (eds.), History of Political Thought. Routledge. pp. 535-560 (2010)

Abstract
In this paper I intend to concentrate on post-independence India, and to explore why a free and lively society with a rich tradition of philosophical inquiry has not thrown up much original political theory. The paper falls into three parts. In the first part I outline some of the fascinating problems thrown up by post-independence India, and in the second I show that they remain poorly theorized. In the final part I explore some of the likely explanations of this neglect. In order to avoid misunderstanding, four points of clarification are necessary. First, by Indian political theory I mean works on political theory written by Indian writers irrespective of whether they live in India or outside it, and exclude the works of non-Indian writers on India. Secondly, I am primarily concerned with Indian political theory rather than with Indian political theorists. Although political theory is generally practised by political theorists, it is not their monopoly. Sociologists, historians, economists, philosophers, jurists and others too ask theoretical questions about political life. I will therefore cast my net wider and look at the works of these writers as well. It is my contention that political theory is underdeveloped among not only Indian political theorists but also their cousins in allied disciplines. Thirdly, I define the term political theory in as culturally neutral a manner as possible. For a variety of reasons too complex to discuss here, political theory has a longer history and is more developed in the West than elsewhere. However it is not absent in most other civilizations. Minimally it is concerned to offer a coherent and systematic understanding of political life, and is three-dimensional. It is conceptual in the sense that it defines, analyses and distinguishes concepts, and develops a conceptual framework capable of comprehending political life. It is also explanatory in the sense that it seeks to make sense of political life, and to explain why it is constituted and conducted in a particular manner and how its different parts are related. Finally, it is normative in the sense that it either justifies the way a society is currently constituted, or criticizes and offers a well-considered alternative to it. Since political theory understood in these terms is to be found in most major traditions of thought including the Indian, albeit in different forms and degrees, our definition is not or only minimally open to the charge of ethnocentrism or universalizing its Western form
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