India’s top intellectuals nominate the next generation. Here is their list of some of the brightest minds on the horizon.
Intellectuals are an essential component of an open society — they bring their unique analytical insights to not only scrutinise the society in its immediate form but also help shape the ideas and ideologies of the future. They conduct research, deploy critical thinking, reason, teach, author books, challenge dogma and equip us with cognitive tools to engage with the world we inhabit — just for the love of knowledge, or for the greater human good.
India has a rich and ancient tradition of producing such thinkers, teachers and philosophers who have contributed to the creation of new schools of thought that have travelled and established themselves far beyond Indian shores too. They have also passed on their learnings and discoveries to successive generations to preserve, innovate upon and further.
But who are the next generation of Indian intellectuals in the modern times we inhabit? The next Ramachandra Guha, the next Arvind Panagariya, the next Ashok Gulati, the next Raghuram Rajan, the next Makarand Paranjape, or the next Shashi Tharoor?
Over the last few months, ThePrint spoke to some of the biggest names in Indian intelligentsia and asked them who, in their opinion, are the brightest minds on the horizon — in history, economics, sociology, political studies, law, strategic affairs, philosophy, public affairs, and inter-disciplinary studies, among others.
What follows is a long and impressive list of next-gen intellectuals who have begun to make a mark and given notice of their coming brilliance. Some of the nominees were directly mentored by the veterans who named them while the others are those whose work they track closely. This is by no means an exhaustive list and will be updated when more intellectuals respond to our requests.
Here’s the list, in alphabetical order of the names of the nominators:
Ashis Nandy, 81
A trained sociologist and clinical psychologist, Nandy’s area of expertise is the psychology of violence, the psychology of genocide and the future of ideas.
On his choices, Nandy said: “All three have special relevance in the 150th year of Gandhi’s birth.”
But he adds: Two warnings first. I am in my 80s now; I have seen four generations pass by. Those who look young to me do not look that young to others. Also, those in their 20s and 30s have not often got the chance to find themselves and to display their talent or promise. My own first book was published when I was in my 40s.”
His picks are:
Faisal Devji, 54
Devji is professor of Indian history at St Antony’s College, Oxford. He is an expert on modern Islamic studies and ethics, and violence in a globalised world.
Pankaj Mishra, 49
Mishra is an author and columnist, who was nominated as fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009. He is the author of bestselling books From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia and Age of Anger: A History of the Present.
“Both Faisal and Pankaj have opened up much-explored areas like liberation struggles in Asia, Gandhian studies and populism for the next generation of scholars and activist-scholars,” Nandy said of his choices.
Sushrut Jadhav, 59
Jadhav is a senior lecturer in cross-cultural psychiatry at University College, London. He is the founding editor of the international journal, Anthropology and Medicine, published by Taylor & Francis.
Nandy calls him “a brilliant psychiatrist, whose sharp clinical insights are bound to enrich the struggle for human dignity and studies of humiliation”.
Ashok Gulati, 64
An agricultural economist, Gulati is former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. His choice is:
Shweta Saini, 37
Saini is an expert in Indian agricultural trade policy and food security, and is a senior consultant at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.
“She has reasonably good work in the field. She is equipped to advise policymakers on agriculture and related issues,” Gulati said of her.
Ashutosh Varshney, 61
A Sol Goldman Professor of political science and international and public affairs, Brown University, Varshney is considered an expert voice on ethnicity and nationalism, political economy of development and South Asian politics and political economy. His picks are:
Milan Vaishnav, 38
Vaishnav, director and senior fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is a doctorate from Columbia University. He is an expert voice on the political economy of India.
Varshney said he picked Vaishnav “for producing a most impressive book on criminals in politics, taking deep interest in public issues of Indian politics, and writing in an accessible manner”.
Sanjay Reddy, 48
Reddy, an associate professor of economics at The New School for Social Research, New York, is a doctorate from Harvard University. He is an expert in development economics, and a former member of the ‘Independent High-level Team of Advisers’ to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations on the longer-term positioning of the UN Development System (in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development).
Varshney said he picked Reddy “for producing a whole array of economic insights, swimming against the disciplinary tide, and addressing issues of significance with penetrating ease”.
Sudhir Krishnaswamy, 43
Krishnaswamy teaches political philosophy and politics in India, law and governance, and legal system reform at Azim Premji University. He is an expert on Indian politics and constitutional law.
“A superb mind at the intersection of law and politics, I wish he would write more often, because when he does, the impact will be substantial,” Varshney said of him.
Vinay Sitapati, 34
Sitapati is assistant professor of political science and legal studies at Ashoka University. He is a doctorate from Princeton University, and wrote a bestselling biography of former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in 2016.
Varshney said he picked him “for using his training in law and political theory for examining forgotten personalities and popular political trends, and for courageously defying disciplinary orthodoxies”.
Madhav Khosla, 33
Khosla was the inaugural B.R. Ambedkar Academic Fellow at Columbia Law School in 2016-17. He completed his doctorate from Harvard University, where his dissertation was awarded the Edward M. Chase Prize for “the best dissertation on a subject relating to the promotion of world peace”. He is one of the editors of The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Constitution.
Khosla has impressed Varshney with his “superb legal-philosophical mind, whose work will make a difference to how we think”.
Karthik Muralidharan, 43
Muralidharan, professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego, is a doctorate from Harvard University. His research focuses on health and education in developing countries.
Varshney said of him: “His work is very technically economic, so in the larger public sphere, his presence is limited, unlike the economics profession, where he towers in his cohort. He has started writing a book for the larger audiences on India’s economy. We might know more soon.”
Bibek Debroy, 63
Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, Debroy is a distinguished economist. Also a member of NITI Aayog, Debroy has authored several books and was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in 2015. His picks are:
Karthik Muralidharan, 43
Muralidharan makes his second appearance on the list. As mentioned earlier, he is an academic and expert on health and education in developing countries.
Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, 57
Banerjee, the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, holds a doctorate from Harvard. He is the author of five books and several journal articles. He was also a member of the Advanced Market Commitment Working Group at the Center for Global Development, a non-profit think tank based in Washington.
Sanjeev Sanyal, 48
Sanyal, currently principal adviser in the ministry of finance, was a Rhodes Scholar and an Eisenhower Fellow. He has decades of experience in the financial sector, and served as global strategist & managing director at Deutsche Bank until 2015.
C. Raja Mohan, 65
Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, Raja Mohan is an expert on strategic affairs. His picks are:
Ananth Padmanabhan, 35
Padmanabhan is a fellow at Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi. He is pursuing his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
“He has done insightful work at the intersection of technology, society and regulatory policies. His research on the regulation of drones, modern biotechnology, Aadhaar and, more broadly, data governance makes him a powerful voice in the policy debates ahead,” said Raja Mohan.
Arunabha Ghosh, 40
Ghosh is CEO of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, New Delhi. He pioneered and is a founding board member of the Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN).
Raja Mohan has picked him “for his contributions to the Indian debates on energy and the environment”. “Ghosh has brought deep technical knowledge and a lot of common sense to India’s ideologically-charged debates on climate change and resource use,” he said.
Rahul Sagar, 36
Sagar is Global Network Associate Professor of political science at NYU, Abu Dhabi. Raja Mohan is impressed with “his pioneering work on putting together modern India’s thinking on world affairs over the last two centuries”.
“His forthcoming volumes provide the missing historical context to Delhi’s terribly partisan debates on contemporary foreign policy and reveal the multiple strands in the evolution of India’s world view,” Raja Mohan said.
Dipankar Gupta, 69
A public intellectual & columnist, Gupta taught sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi for about three decades. He is an expert on caste, ethnicity, labour laws and rural-urban studies. His picks are:
Sreedeep Bhattacharya, 35
Bhattacharya, a fellow at the Department of Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University, is a doctorate from JNU. His body of work explores the areas transforming urban spaces, consumer culture and advertising, auto-voyeuristic tendencies, hyper-visibilities and new ways of seeing.
“He has done some excellent work in visual sociology and on consumer culture that opens up this field of study, and demonstrates the links between the sociology of consumption and waste in India and the Western world,” Gupta said.
Naman Ahuja, 42
Ahuja, professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, is an expert in ancient and modern Indian art history. He has been teaching at JNU since 2006.
“He has done significant work on aesthetics as well as in the understanding of art forms the world over. He is a renowned expert on art appreciation and has curated museum shows across the world,” Gupta said.
Sundar Sarukkai, 52
Sarukkai, professor of philosophy at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, is a doctorate in theoretical physics from Purdue University. He has been teaching at NIAS since 2016. He is an expert voice on the interface of science, philosophy and religion.
“He is a trained physicist and philosopher who has contributed significantly to the philosophy of science, and has advanced our understanding of political lives as experienced on an everyday basis. He has also contributed to Dalit studies,” Gupta said.
Makarand R. Paranjape, 58
Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla, Paranjape has over 35 years of teaching experience. He was also chairperson of the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, for two terms. Paranjape has authored numerous books in the field of literary criticism, poetry and fiction. His picks are:
Anirban Ganguly, 42
Ganguly, director of the Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation (SPMRF), is a member of the policy research team of the Bharatiya Janata Party. A scholar of civilisation, history, politics and culture, he has authored various books, including The Modi Doctrine: New Paradigms in India’s Foreign Policy (2016).
Vikram Sampath, 38
Sampath, a Bengaluru-based historian, is a prolific writer. He received the Sahitya Akademi’s first Yuva Puraskar in English literature in 2012, and the ARSC International Award for Excellence in Historical Research in New York in 2011 for his book on Gauhar Jaan.
In 2015, he was one of the four artists and writers selected by President Pranab Mukherjee to be ‘writer-in-residence’ at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Hindol Sengupta, 39
Sengupta is editor-at-large, Fortune India. A journalist by profession, he is the author of many notable books, the latest being The Man Who Saved India: Sardar Patel and His Idea of India.
Nandan Nilekani, 63
One of the founders of Infosys and the former chairman of UIDAI, the body set up to create and run the Aadhaar project, Nilekani is a venture capitalist. His picks are:
Nitin Pai, 42
Pai is the co-founder and director of Takshashila Institution, Bengaluru. He has worked for more than a decade in the Singapore government in strategic technology, broadband infrastructure and deregulation.
Nilekani said he picked Pai “for coming back from Singapore, giving up a comfortable job to create and lead a next-generation think tank for India, and training a whole generation of policy professionals”.
Aromar Revi, 57
Revi, founding director of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), is a global authority on urban issues. He is one of the most cited urban scholars in the world across multiple fields, with over 75 publications and 8,000 citations in fields like urbanisation, climate adaptation, infrastructure, sustainable development, and public policy.
Nilekani said he picked Revi “for leading India’s first university aspirant focusing on sustainable urbanisation and being a global voice on climate change”.
Arghya Sengupta, 33
Sengupta is co-founder and research director at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. An expert in constitutional law and legal policy, he graduated from the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in 2008 with a gold medal. A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he also taught for two years as a lecturer in administrative law at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Nilekani picked Sengupta “for setting up a first-class policy think-tank for law, and for playing a seminal role in many of the recent laws and initiatives like Aadhaar, data privacy etc.”
N.R. Madhava Menon, 83
An ace legal educator and researcher, Menon is dubbed as the ‘father of modern legal education’ in India. His picks are:
Purvi Pokhriyal, 42
Pokhriyal is director and dean at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. Her research areas include India’s judicial processes, family jurisprudence, constitutional law, criminal law and alternative dispute resolution.
Arghya Sengupta, 33
Sengupta’s second appearance on this list is thanks to the large amount of legal research he has done, and the innovative ideas he has come up with, Menon said.
“A platform like Vidhi is a new development in the Indian legal spectrum. At a young age, he has managed to do a decent amount of good work,” the veteran legal mind said of Sengupta.
Sairam Bhat, 42
Bhat is a professor of law at NLSIU, and coordinator for the Centre for Environmental Law Education, Research and Advocacy and the Environmental Law Clinic.
“He is promising young man, especially in the field of business and commercial law,” Menon said.
Abhinav Chandrachud, 33
Chandrachud is an advocate at the Bombay High Court, and belongs to a distinguished legal family — his grandfather Yeshwant was the longest-serving Chief Justice of India, while dad Dhananjaya is a Supreme Court judge.
Abhinav has written extensively on freedom of speech, the judiciary, the Constitution of India and legal history.
“He is a highly qualified advocate and a good researcher,” said Menon.
Rajiv Kumar, 67
An economist, Kumar is currently the vice-chairperson of the government’s policy think-tank, NITI Aayog. His picks are:
Subhash Palekar, 69
Palekar, a Padma Shri awardee, is an agriculture scientist, who has been working on zero budget natural farming, where there are no input costs. “Going ahead, this will be one of the most critical areas in India,” said Kumar.
Abhay Bang, 68
Bang is the founder of SEARCH — Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health. A Padma Shri awardee, he has made an enormous contribution in the field of healthcare, especially for the poor. He is the recipient of the distinguished alumni award from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Ramachandra Guha, 60
One of India’s best-known historians, Guha has authored many popular books such as India After Gandhi, Gandhi Before India and Makers of Modern India. His latest is Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World. His picks are:
Madhav Khosla, 33
Khosla’s second appearance on the list is tribute to his impressive CV. As mentioned earlier, he was the inaugural B.R. Ambedkar Academic Fellow at Columbia Law School in 2016-17, and is one of the editors of The Oxford Handbook of the Indian Constitution.
Vinay Sitapati, 34
Also a second appearance for Sitapati, assistant professor of political science and legal studies at the Sonepat-based Ashoka University and author of a bestselling biography of former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Srinath Raghavan, 41
Raghavan, an expert on the military and strategic aspects of South Asia, is senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR). He has authored many best-selling books, such as The Most Dangerous Place: A History of the United States in South Asia, India’s War: The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945, and War and Peace in Modern India.
Shashi Tharoor, 62
A Member of Parliament and former union minister, Tharoor has also served at the United Nations as Under Secretary General. He has authored many bestselling books, the latest being The Paradoxical Prime Minister. His picks are:
Gurmehar Kaur, 22
Kaur is a student activist and author of Small Acts of Freedom. She studied English literature at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University. She is also an ambassador for Postcards for Peace, a UK-based charitable organisation that helps eliminate any form of discrimination.
Tharoor said of her: “Gurmehar is a woman with a distinctive voice, someone who has the courage to express her convictions even in the face of challenging circumstances, as well as the charm to deliver a compelling argument. India’s social fabric needs more of what Gurmehar has to offer.”
Manu S. Pillai, 28
Pillai is the author of award-winning books The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore, and Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji. He has served as Tharoor’s former chief of staff, and has worked at Britain’s House of Lords with Lord Bilimoria. He has also assisted the BBC with its history series Incarnations.
“Manu is a brilliant historian and an evocative writer who has rekindled many a reader’s love for, and fascination with, unusual historical tales. His masterful non-fiction books, The Ivory Throne (2015) and Rebel Sultans (2018), and his weekly column with Mint Lounge reflect how Manu’s impeccably-researched and wonderfully-written stories continue to whet the average amateur historian’s appetite,” Tharoor said.
Piyush Tewari, 38
Tewari is founder and CEO of SaveLIFE Foundation, a non-profit organisation committed to improving road safety and emergency medical care in India. SLF is closely associated with Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City.
“Piyush Tewari’s SaveLIFE Foundation is a shining example of how an effective, mission-driven, non-profit, non-governmental organisation can create tangible and sustainable impact on our daily lives,” Tharoor said.
“His work, particularly on raising awareness of road safety issues and building broad political support for national road safety legislation, as well as in ushering in a Good Samaritan law, will continue to have a profound impact on our society for years to come.”
Shiv Visvanathan, 68
Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University, Haryana, Visvanathan is a renowned public intellectual. He pioneered the concept of cognitive justice. His picks are:
Amit Bindal, 38
Bindal is an assistant professor and assistant director, Centre for Penology, Criminal Justice and Police Studies, Jindal Global Law School. An expert in criminal law, he was one of the editors-in-chief of the Jindal Global Law Review (JGLR) (Volume 3, Issue 1, September 2011).
“He works on the psychoanalysis of law. His attempts to look at the relation between law and myths has fascinating possibilities for future research,” Visvanathan said.
Misria Ali, 26
Ali is a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Knowledge Systems, OP Jindal Global University. Visvanathan said he picked her because “her work is on people’s perception on security and energy in Kodaikanal. She was one of the first to attempt to rethink STF studies in India, especially the relationship between science and democracy”.
Anumeha Yadav, 35
Yadav is an independent journalist and researcher, working on tribals and social movements. Visvanathan said her reports “have revealed her social sensitivity and courage, which makes her one of the best media analysts”.
Srinath Raghavan, 41
The only one to appear on the list of tomorrow’s intellectuals as well as today’s, Raghavan has picked two young scholars, working in his areas of interest (international relations and contemporary history), whose work is “stamped by originality and promise”. “Both have published their first books this year, but have already made a mark in their fields,” Raghavan said. His picks are:
Rohit De, 31
De, lawyer and historian of modern South Asia, focuses on the legal history of the Indian subcontinent and the common law world. He is an assistant professor in the department of history, Yale University. “Prof. De’s book, A People’s Constitution, is a remarkable account of the Indian Constitution’s impact on peoples’ lives and imagination. His historical work speaks directly to our times,” Raghavan said.
Zorawar Daulet Singh, 40
Singh, an author and foreign affairs analyst, is a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. “Dr Singh’s work, Power and Diplomacy, is an important revisionist history of Indian foreign policy during the Cold War, with much relevance to contemporary policy debates,” Raghavan said.
Surjit Bhalla, 70
An economist, Bhalla is a former member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, set up by Narendra Modi. His picks are:
Yamini Aiyar, 42
Aiyar is president and chief executive, CPR, New Delhi. She is an expert on social policy and development, and founded the Accountability Initiative at CPR.
Bhalla said of her: “She has made significant contributions in the area of social policy, for example social expenditures on education. Governance has emerged as a key policy issue in emerging economies, and Yamini is expected to be at the forefront of this discussion.”
Shamika Ravi, 39
Ravi is director of research at Brookings India. She is an expert in game theory and microfinance, and is a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.
“She has emerged as a major voice on gender, health, and democracy. She is likely to emerge as a key data-based academic policy player in India,” Bhalla said.
Hindol Sengupta, 39
Bhalla has also picked journalist-author Sengupta, and said of him: “He has emerged as a major political historian. His recent book on Sardar Patel is timely and a reminder that major historians in India need not be Left-of-centre.”
Upendra Baxi, 80
A legal scholar, Baxi has served as vice-chancellor of Delhi University. He has picked bright minds from fields such as law and sociology, over a wide age range. “Not of all them have been directly mentored by me. Some are my students, some are colleagues, and some are people whose work I have followed,” he said. His picks are:
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, 51
Mehta, now vice-chancellor of the Ashoka University, was president of CPR. He also taught political theory at Harvard and at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Baxi explains his choice by saying: “He’s well-established by now, but will remain young for me. He takes a keen interest in jurisprudence and has written well on the subject.”
Navroz Dubash, 51, & Lavanya Rajamani, 45
Dubash is a professor at CPR, and coordinator of the Initiative on Climate, Energy, and Environment.
Rajamani is also a professor at CPR, where she researches legal issues related to the environment, in particular climate change, and international law.
“Both are making a mark with their research in the field of climate change and global warming. Their work on environmental law is also commendable,” Baxi said.
Amita Dhanda, 56
Dhanda is professor of law at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. She is a Ph.D. from Delhi University, and her research has centred around questions of inclusion and exclusion.
Kalpana Kannabiran, 57
Kannabiran is a sociologist and lawyer, who is currently director of the Council for Social Development, Hyderabad. Her research areas include nuances of feminism and sociology. She is also an activist.
Gautam Bhatia, 29
Bhatia is an advocate, and a Rhodes Scholar. He acted as the second chair to Arvind Datar while arguing for the Right to Privacy in the Supreme Court.
“He is a practising lawyer, but if you read his work, he writes like an academic,” Baxi said.
Mahajan is a veteran journalist, who has worked with The Indian Express and The Hindustan Times, and is a senior professor of law. He is dean at K.R. Mangalam University, Haryana.
“Mahajan is a pioneer of legal journalism in this country. He has made a conscious choice to be a journalist. His column on legal perspectives is always very interesting,” Baxi said.
Menaka Guruswamy, 44
Guruswamy is a lawyer practising at the Supreme Court, as well as B.R. Ambedkar Research Scholar & Lecturer, Columbia Law School.
“Her work on LGBTQ rights and constitutional law deserves a mention,” Baxi said.
Vijay Kelkar, 76
A former finance secretary to the government of India, Kelkar also served as chairman of the Finance Commission and was awarded the country’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2011. His picks are:
Ajay Shah, 52
Shah is professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. His research interests include policy issues on Indian economic growth, open economy macroeconomics, public finance, financial economics and pensions.
Kelkar has picked him “for his work on the open economy and the financial sector”.
Abhay Pethe, 58
Pethe is professor, Dr Vibhooti Shukla Chair Unit in Urban Economics and Regional Development, University of Mumbai.
Kelkar has chosen him “for his work on urban sector and finances, land markets and municipal finances”.
Susan Thomas, 51
Thomas is a faculty member at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development and Research, Mumbai. She studied civil engineering at IIT-Bombay and completed her PhD from the University of Southern California.
“Her work in microeconomics, on firm failures and stock exchanges” is the reason Kelkar has made her part of this list.
Editor’s note: ThePrint got in touch with at least half-a-dozen women intellectuals for their list of nominees but all of them did not want to participate in the exercise for varying reasons. While it is disappointing, ThePrint respects their decision.
(Reported and compiled by Jyoti Malhotra, Deeksha Bhardwaj, Remya Nair, Achyut Mishra, Rajgopal Singh and Mahua Venkatesh.)
Disclosure: Nandan Nilekani, the former chairman of UIDAI and co-founder of Infosys, is among the distinguished founder-investors of ThePrint. Please click here for details on investors.
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