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Nehru the ‘philosopher king’: New book studies intellectual & political legacy of India’s 1st PM

Published by Penguin Random House India, ‘Nehru and The Spirit of India' by Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee will be released on 2 August on ThePrint’s Softcover.

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New Delhi: In his new book on Jawaharlal Nehru’s intellectual and political legacy, political theorist and writer Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee calls the first prime minister a “philosopher king” in the Platonic mould, who “discovered” an India that remains an undiscovered possibility.

Published by Penguin Random House India, Nehru and The Spirit of India by Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee will be released on 2 August on ‘Softcover’, ThePrint’s online venue to launch non-fiction books.

Bhattacharjee is the author of books including The Town Slowly Empties: On Life and Culture During Lockdown (2021), Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India (2018), and Ghalib’s Tomb and Other Poems (2013).

Through his book — dedicated to his late father, a fierce critic of Nehru and his policies — Bhattacharjee argues for a ‘minoritarian’ approach to national politics by breaking ideological and disciplinary protocols.

The book begins by analysing the “politics of friendship” between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah as it examines the issue of Kashmir. It then tries to bring to light Nehru’s defence of secularism during the debates of the Constituent Assembly, as well as his reasoning behind curbing free speech in the First Amendment. Bhattacharjee posits that the fundamental nature of Indian modernity is fractured.

Praising Bhattacharjee’s work, Talal Asad, professor of anthropology at the City University of New York, says the book is “remarkable” for everyone who is interested in India and also those who are perplexed by the “unhappy course of most post-colonial states”.

“It forces us in the end to ask ourselves whether the tragic missteps in that history are due to colonialism or to the form of the modern state itself. Highly intelligent and generous-spirited, Bhattacharjee has given us a valuable and thought-provoking echo of Nehru’s famous book — his own Discovery of India,” Asad says .

Rajeev Bhargava, honorary fellow and director, Parekh Institute of Indian Thought at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, terms the work a “powerful intellectual portrait” of Nehru.

He believes that the book helps us reach closer to what Nehru would have thought about issues of our time. Bhargava further observes that the “book cuts across genres, transgressing boundaries between history of ideas, political philosophy, literature and memoir”.

“This is not an “objective” reading but it isn’t biased because truth about some matters emerges only when nurtured in a space where two minds meet,” Bhargava adds.

Also read: How Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins were identified: New book recounts aftermath of his death


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