Concepts, Methods and Indian Politics: A Conversation with Sudipta Kaviraj

Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterNotes on Methods
Concepts, Methods and Indian
Politics: A Conversation with
Sudipta Kaviraj
Hilal Ahmed1
The study of Indian politics, especially in the conventional disciplinary framework of political science,
is often differentiated from what is called political theory. Indian politics, more generally, refers to the
functioning of institutions (Parliament, Supreme Court, political parties) and the everydayness of
political processes. On the other hand, political theory is envisaged as a sophisticated mode of thinking
about certain concepts (liberty, equality, justice, secularism) and intellectual traditions (liberalism,
Marxism and so on). The dominance of Eurocentric Western concepts and categories is clearly visible in
such disciplinary representation of political theory as a subject. Although a section of Indian scholars has
questioned this imaginary dividing line between theory (read Western!) and politics (read Indian/
empirical!) in last two decades, the study of the theoretical aspects of Indian politics has not yet been
given adequate intellectual attention.2
Sudipta Kaviraj’s work is an exception in this regard. He has been engaging with the complexities of
Indian politics for serious political theorization for almost five decades. Kaviraj’s work recognizes the
historical formation of Indian politics as a point of departure to underline the specific constitution of
Indian modernity. Unlike other scholars of his generation, especially the self-declared Marxists, Kaviraj
has always been critical of theoretical rigidity of any kind. This intellectual openness helps him to engage
with Western intellectual traditions without compromising with his adherence to the empirically
informed, historically conscious, and theoretically adventurous analysis of Indian politics.
Kaviraj’s work introduces us to an interesting methodological trajectory. He does not outrightly reject
the value of Eurocentric/Western theoretical thinking. Instead of employing them uncritically, he asks us
to locate these theoretical reflections in their immediate Western context. This contextualization of
Western theories, Kaviraj argues, may help us in tracing the manner in which a particular modern
experience is understood, evaluated and eventually theorized. In other words, Kaviraj is not merely
interested in the act of theory; he seems to explore the mechanisms that produce theoretical reflections.
Notes on Methods
Note: This section is coordinated by Divya Vaid (
1 Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, India.
2 The intellectual unease with theory-politics binary, at least in the eld of political science, has an interesting history. The pioneer-
ing works of Rajni Kothari (1970), Dhirubhai Sheth (2018) and Ashis Nandy (1983) established an intellectual tradition of serious
theoretical thinking on Indian politics. Partha Chatterjee (2011), Rajeev Bhargava (2009), Suhas Palshikar (2017), Peter R. deSouza
(2018), Yogendra Yadav (2020), Aditya Nigam (2021), Nivedita Menon (2012), Nivedita Menon et al. (2014), Prathama Banerjee
(2020), Pratap Bhanu Mehta (2003), Gurpreet Mahajan (2013) and others have approached this question from a number of different
stand points in recent years.
Corresponding author:
Hilal Ahmed, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 29 Rajpur Road, New Delhi 110054, India.
Studies in Indian Politics
9(2) 283–290, 2021
© 2021 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230211043041

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