First published in 1986, this book has become a classic in the study of nationalism. Arguing against theorists such as Benedict Anderson and Ernest Gellner, Chatterjee shows that whereas nationalist thinkers in the colonial world shared the intellectual premises of the modern state based on a rational legal order and popular sovereignty developed in the West, they disagreed on who should carry out the transformation and how they must accomplish it. The outcome, Chatterjee claims, was a modern postcolonial state that was not a replica of the modern state in the West.
Tracing this journey in the Indian case, Chatterjee shows how Bankimchandra posed the task as one of emulating the industries and sciences of the West while retaining the spiritual greatness of the East. Gandhi then undertook a major manoeuvre by mobilising the peasant masses in the cause of national freedom, only to lay the ground for a state of which the masses would be a part but in which they would not participate. Nehru completed the journey by inaugurating the national state as a rational and progressive institution that had found its place within the global realities of power.
Partha Chatterjee is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Columbia University, New York, and Honorary Professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. His books include The Nation and Its Fragments (1993), A Princely Impostor? The Secret History of Indian Nationalism (2001), The Politics of the Governed (2004), The Black Hole of Empire (2012), I Am the People: Reflections on Popular Sovereignty Today (2019), and The Truths and Lies of Nationalism (2021). He has also written plays in Bengali.