Book Review: Individual Rights In A Civilizational State – A New Idea Of India

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  • Name of the Book: Individual Rights In A Civilizational State – A New Idea Of India
  • Author: Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri
  • Genre: Non-fiction
  • Publisher: Westland (2020)

Context of book

‘Individual Rights In A Civilizational State – A New Idea Of India’ is one of the beautiful works by two authors without white hair – Harsh  Madhusudan and  Rajeev  Mantri. This book gives a new perspective to the idea of India as ‘A new idea of India’. Seven decades ago pundit Nehru wrote a book “Discovery of India” to give his own perspective on the Idea of India. In fact, his idea worked well till the congress system.

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Over the period of time, the congress system down due to the emergence of multi-party democracy, Mandal, Kamandal, and globalization. There was a transition period after the congress system which led to the political instabilities. The emergence of regional parties and caste politics changed the type of government but they failed to challenge the Nehruvian order.

But After the emergence of the BJP as a major power in Indian politics, it is not only challenging the type of governance but the established hegemony of the congress system. Thus, these two authors are looking at rising of the BJP in 2014 as the creation of new order. Erstwhile Nehruvian order was based on a parliamentary road to socialism. Thus, it was more or less communitarian of nature. It had very less elements of civilizational values.

But ‘A new idea of India’ by these two authors have a mix of both liberalism and civilizational state. In other words, if the civilizational state is a thesis, then, the old idea of India is anti-thesis, and ‘A new idea of India’ talked by these two authors are synthesis. One of the best parts is that they prosed “A” new Idea of India and not “The” new idea of India. They have revealed their openness even though the title of the book.

A New Idea of India Vs The Idea of India

Through ‘A new Idea of India’, they are challenging the old notions in various directions. First, Nehruvian order which we have been practicing today. Both authors criticized this order as the perverted form of the original concepts i.e. secularism, socialism, and welfare. Second, In the 90s former PM of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, and former PM of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohammed, came up with the idea of ‘Asian values.’ They have also challenged this communitarian notion.

Intellectual class in India has also been peddling the conceptions of ‘Asian values.’ Asian values basically challenged the western conception of individualism. Thirdly, They are also trying to draw the attention of the people that India is not only just a post-colonial state founded in the 50s but a civilizational state too. Thus, they are also challenging the orientalist culture of academics.

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In this book, they have discussed the relationship between the state, government, and society. A new relationship between different stakeholders of the state is nothing but ‘A New Idea of India’ as proposed by them. They are talking about individual rights instead of group rights i.e. communitarian conception of society. I think they are correct in his recognition because fundamental rights (Which talked about individual rights) in India are enforceable.

On the other hand, directive principles have been put in the ‘not directly enforceable’ section by constitutional makers. They appeal to the state for not forcing an individual to associate himself or herself with a particular group or identity. Article 15 of the Indian constitution also appeals for the same i.e. equal individual rights irrespective to religion.

Saving Secularism from the Secularists

“Saving Secularism from the secularist” is basically the title of the third chapter. It starts with the quote of CM of UP, Yogi Adityanath. According to Yogi Adityanath, “I believe that the word secular is the biggest lie since Independence.” They quoted constituent assembly debate where J.B. Kriplani challenged Pundit Nehru over uniform civil code for Muslim appeasement.

They are right in saying that intellectual intellections created a narrative of “Persuasion” in the Muslim community instead of “Imposition.” Mean of the transformation of society should be imparted in some way from the state. They are basically focusing on taking rights seriously. The state should not discriminate against anyone in imparting any policies or bringing reform, irrespective of their identities.

They claim that an individual could be ‘Sect neutral’ and not ‘Secular.’ Secularism is basically characteristics of the state and not individual. One state could be either ‘Secular’ like France or ‘Theocratic’ like Islamic states. Some states could also lie in the continuum. For example, Francis Fukuyama considers Iran as a “hybrid” of “theocratic and democratic elements”. They also decode the ‘concept of Hindu Rashtra’ through the quote of Lal Krishna Advani.

According to Shri Advani, – “India is a Hindu Rashtra, but can never become a theocratic state. A Hindu Rashtra and a secular state are virtually synonymous”. In India, the conception of Hindu Rashtra is seen through the prism of theocratic countries of the world. For example, people look at Islamic countries which maintain religious laws and have religious courts to interpret all aspects of the law.

Unraveling Secularism

They make a strong case and appeal to the State to break Nehru’s construct of seeing religious minorities as ‘separate from us.’ In fact, in November 2019, on the 130th birth anniversary of Pundit Nehru, Madhavan Palat, quoted – “Nehru ‘distrusted’ the word secular as he thought it was not a happy word and maybe a source of dogma.” It indicates that the real stakeholder of secularism i.e. State had distanced itself from secularism. On the other hand, the people who could only be sect neutral have taken the ‘conception of secularism’ very seriously.

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This mismatch between an individual and the state has converted secularism into ‘pseudo secularism’ as claimed by right groups. They put forward the case study of Hamid Dalwai. Hamid Dalwai, a Marathi Muslim faced ostracism from his community for being a radical reformist. He asked for women’s emancipation through education and employment.

Thus, they rightly observed that “Understanding of secularism by Muslims is centered on theology”. It means the State should react as per their religious belief system. In need, State must support its theological perspective. In other normal times, State keeps away from its belief system. For example, when the Rajiv Gandhi government overturned Shah Bano judgment on their theological line, then it makes them happy. But when the government legislates ‘The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 then it makes them unhappy.’

This is what we called “Principle distanced secularism” explained by Rajeev Bhargava. He gave discretion to the State to stay away from the religion as well as intervene in the religion. Since we have not yet found Plato’s philosopher-king, identity politics tilt secularism toward ‘pseudo secularism’ as claimed by right groups. Thus, these two authors ask to take ‘rights’ seriously and the state must be secular in a real sense instead of an individual. They appeal to shift identity-based politics and welfare to need-based politics and welfare.

Profit is not a Dirty Word

I also loved reading the 4th chapter i.e. “Profit is not a dirty word”. They started this chapter with the reply of Pundit Nehru to J.R.D. tata, when he talked about the need for the public sector to make a profit. Pundit Nehru replied to him – “Never talk to me about the word profit; it is a dirty word”. Pundit Nehru was a Fabian socialist who was trained by his guru Laski. Authors challenge the conventional idea of the socialist conception of profit. Socialists believe in ‘Equality of outcome.’

Their notion of freedom is freedom from the state. But the authors quote Isaiah Berlin to decode their conception further. According to Isaiah Berlin, Socialists do not believe in ‘negative liberty’ or freedom from the State beyond the protection of life, liberty, and property. But instead, they believe in ‘positive liberty’ or material freedom through the State”. (Page 141)

The authors link the conception of profit to the Indian civilization. The property was one of the four main Purushartha in Dharmashastra i.e. Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Even the religions that emerged out from the ‘Sanatan tradition’ like Buddhism and Jainism never appealed for completely staying away from the property similar to socialists. For example, Buddhism asked for following the middle path to attain Moksha.

According to the Authors, communism and socialism are antagonistic towards these traditions. The intellectual class has also created a grand narrative around this conception in the 80s. From 1950 to 1980, India followed the socialist map. After 30 years, the low growth rate was blamed on Hindus as ‘Hindu rate of growth by an economist, Raj Krishna. Even today, the minds of the people have been coded in a way that they look at industrialists through the prism of Skepticism.

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Decolonize Indian State

In the end, both authors, argue to decolonize the Indian state. In the last chapter, they claim that India’s judicial, federal and administrative approach is not different from the British period. In this sense, Hamza Alvi, a Pakistani sociologist, rightly diagnosed the relationship between economic and political development. After independence, the economic system remains feudal while the political system became modern in Pakistan. He analyzed it with respect to Pakistan. But up to some extent, it also suited for India till 1990.

From independence till the 90s, the Indian economic system remained the same but the political system became modern. India has done away with this baggage with new liberal policies. India’s position on the economic ladder of the world is the fruit of this policy. India overtakes Japan to become the third-largest economy in purchasing power parity (PPP).

India has surpassed two colonial powers (Britain and Japan) in very few years in PPP terms. They compare India with China in the last chapter. China was not even better than India just a generation before. But today China is very far ahead of India. Thus, the authors claim that having a state is not just enough but the state must be simultaneously accountable and effective too.

They are persuading to regain civilizational ethos for “A New Idea of India” from Matsya Nyay to rule of law. They are also appealing for consistency with the above ideas. According to them, the Nehruvian idea of India has not scored well as per its potential. Thus, according to them, the time has come for ‘A New Idea of India.


  1. Amazon | The Discovery of India
  2. WSJ Opinion | Iran, Islam and the Rule of Law
  3. The Print | For Nehru, secularism wasn’t a happy word but a possible source of dogma
  4. The Print | Who really influenced Rajiv Gandhi to act against Shah Bano judgment?
  5. The Hindu | Understanding secularism in the Indian context
  6. ORF | Terror has no religion but slow economic growth is ‘Hindu’?
  7. The Economic Times | India overtakes Japan to become the third-largest economy in purchasing power parity
  8. Amazon | A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational State
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