There was a constant tradition of political thought in India and it provided us with many renowned political thinkers. Political thought is an umbrella term that embraces all theories and thoughts including various perspectives and ideologies of Indian thinkers conferred in different time frames. The prominent factor in analyzing their viewpoint is to study the socio-historical aspects of the time. Along with it, an equal weightage is required towards the socio-political happenings in the past. The articulation of their ideas shaped the idea of ‘Nationalism’ in India and it precisely changed the series of Indian freedom struggle.
10 Great Indian Political Thinkers
1. Raja Ram Mohan Roy: Known as the ‘Father of Modern India’ and ‘Father of Indian Renaissance’, Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a significant social reformer and the originator of Brahmo Samaj. His presence brought ample reforms and he attempted to create a link between traditions and modernity. His premier aim was to create a modern society with sympathy, tolerance, and reason to establish equality, liberty, and fraternity for all. He fought for the abolishment of Sati and in 1829 an act for the same was passed by Lord William Bentinck, uprooting this ugly practice. As religious reforms, he supported monotheism and criticized Hindu idol-worshipping. He spoke for the principle of ‘unity of Gods’. Roy advocated for several women’s rights, criticized the caste system, and brought numerous educational reforms along with the introduction of western education. His multi-faceted personality gave an edge over injustice, superstitions, and unwanted traditional practices.
2. Swami Vivekananda: A Hindu monk and a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, Swami Vivekananda was the strong critique of orthodox practices, superstitions, etc. which are the primary causes of social evils. He was a follower of Vedanta and Buddhist philosophy and he became a world spokesperson of Vedanta. His modern thinking led his visions to spread spiritual thought across the nation. According to him, three basic stumbling blocks in the progress are poverty, casteism, and education. He was the first leader who spoke for the downtrodden masses and was designated as the ‘Messiah of Poor’. He was also the first Indian to represent India in the world parliament. His contributions to nationalism are worth mentioning. He valued every individual and viewed that a sense of dignity and honour should be ingrained in every individual. Swamiji devised a national consciousness in everyone and consolidated Indian culture in the modern world.
3. Gopal Krishna Gokhale: He was a liberal thinker and the political master of MK Gandhi. His thoughts were essentially related to the socio-political issues of the time. He was one of the best moderate thinkers and played an appreciable role in the early days of Congress. His ideology dwells on the constitutional methods preferring local-self governments. He stood firm against racial discrimination and laid stress over the ideas of equality and individual liberty. Not being a blind admirer, Gokhale welcomed the British in India as a contribution towards the modernization of the nation. He did not validate classical Liberalism because his idea was to endorse individual liberty but with self-restraint. To protect civil rights, he also supported the right to private property. Not approving the Laissez-faire state, he backed government intervention in a country for better economic and social regulations.
4. Mahatma Gandhi: MK Gandhi always remains the most prominent figure in Indian political history and ushered the ideas of non-violence, civil disobedience, self-rule, satyagraha, and civil rights during our freedom struggle universally. His movements provide us with the best examples of Patriotism and Nationalism. He advocated the concept of ‘Truth’ and trusted its fundamentality over any other idea. Truth lays the foundation of an ideal society and for his truth lacking non-violence does not exist. Gandhi had no reliance on the State and according to him State is the best form of exploitation and coercion but he also accepts the crucial role of the State. He affirmatively believes that State is a necessary evil for a flourishing society. His idea of ‘Ram Rajya’ resembles that of Plato’s ideal state where there is no separation between ethics, religion, and politics. The local self-governments are the most significant tier of governance to enlighten the downtrodden section about their rights and duties, therefore, he supported the concept of democracy also. His theory of Decentralisation propounded the 73rd and 74th amendments in our constitution.
Also Read: Ideologies: Gandhi and Ambedkar
5. MN Roy: Manabendra Nath Roy is known as the ‘father of Indian Communism’. He firmly advocated the idea of communism against the exploitation of peasants and workers and believed that Communism is not the end in itself but a means towards Liberalism. But after re-examining various notions of Marxism, he put forth ‘New Humanism’ as his new ideology. Here, he supported the idea of Democracy as a source of sovereignty and individual freedom. Challenging the power of State, he proposed many sociological, scientific, and philosophical grounds of Humanism. During this period, he had disagreements with Marxism and gave the concept of materialism as the most accomplished theory explaining human nature. The idea of the Constituent Assembly in 1934 was proposed by Roy and he wanted to establish a belief of renaissance in Indians.
6. BR Ambedkar: The knowledge that Babasaheb Ambedkar had gained of the different Constitutions was crucial in the framing of the Indian constitution. He was the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly. He had faith in the principles of democracy. He believed in achieving the goal of social justice before any other issue. To prevent atrocities on the Lower Caste, social emancipation must precede political emancipation. The idea that economic progress leads to social justice is flawed as Casteism is an expression of oppression. So for social reform, Casteism needs to be abolished. He supported women’s empowerment and resolved women’s rights of property issues through the Hindu Code Bill. He was against untouchability and wanted political organization for them. Today, India is undergoing socio-economic challenges such as communalism, casteism, gender inequality, separatism, etc. We need to find Ambedkar’s spirit within us to pull ourselves from these challenges.
7. Aurobindo Ghosh: As a critique of Bentham’s Utilitarianism and modern capitalism, Aurobindo Ghosh spoke for the rights of minorities and vulnerable communities. He was not a supporter of Socialism but he advocated some of its principles like promoting equal opportunity and guaranteeing minimal social and economic status to all. These things prove a deep influence of Western thoughts on him. Western ideology is often used by him as a catalyst to improve and transform Indian spirituality. According to him, to attain social and political freedom, spiritual freedom is the benchmark. His beliefs stand firm that to eliminate political and social conflicts and struggles; there is a need to grow identity-consciousness. It would certainly lead to harmony and unity.
8. Rabindranath Tagore: To consolidate their political hold over India in 1905 when Britishers went for the partition of Bengal, Tagore was one of the significant figures to retaliate both ideologically and politically. For him, individual freedom is the basic pre-requisite for a flourishing human civilization. He did not go with the common notion of abstract freedom and state that true liberation lies in the pride of every single individual. He viewed Nationalism as an evil which exists as subjugation over people’s mind and a form of exploitation and sufferings. He appreciated Bolshevism as it ended numerous evil practices like Czarist rule but it led to the suppression of speech and expression. He put his views into practice rather than mere contemplation.
9. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru: First Prime Minister of free India, Nehru was a well-known philosopher and a charismatic political leader. His approach was scientific in nature where he understood the prominence of technology in the process of modernization. He did acknowledge the role of religion in providing inner peace but for him, Science does not back religious practices, therefore, it should be preferable to religion. His scientific temper proved that he was a Secularist who firmly viewed that a truly democratic country is the one that separates religion from politics. Nehru was a Nationalist and his nationalism was translated as patriotism and distinctively an appeal to the soul of man. Throughout his life, he weighed upon the significance of democracy, self-rule and equality of political and economic opportunities. Equality and freedom are important bases to sustain democracy. He advocated Parliamentary democracy because of our historical experiences with British and India’s diverse culture. He was the Champion of Socialism as it is a middle path between capitalism and Marxism.
10. Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan: Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan was a great reformer and modernizer in the Muslim community. Within the Muslim community, there was a lack of modern education which he was promoting to stem the decreasing fortunes of Muslims. He also established the Scientific Society in Uttar Pradesh in 1863 through which the basic motive was to translate Scientific studies into Urdu. Hindu-Muslim majority for him was like two beautiful eyes but it does not mean to bring all communities together. The existing differences in Indian society are the beauty of our culture. Therefore, in the political arena, there is no point in bringing every community together because diversity is the primary principle of any democracy. After all, he was not proclaiming hatred but his concerns were to encourage the interests of the Muslims without any middle ground.
Further reading and references:
📣 The Sociology group is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@sociologygroup) and stay updated with the latest Posts