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date: 23 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

How can scholars critically engage premodern Indic traditions without falling prey to Hindu conservatism or Brahmanical-Hindu apologism? This question is pressing for Indic political theory and contemporary Indian democracy because of ethnically exclusivist, Hindu nationalist movements that have emerged in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This chapter argues that a positive answer to the question must begin by taking seriously the tremendous pluralism in India’s political and philosophical history, which requires systematically engaging with premodern source material and uncovering the internal pluralism within a longer and larger Brahmanical-Hindu tradition of political thought. The author explains how it is both possible and politically necessary to internally subvert Brahmanical-Hindu political thought, which can help diffuse essentialist and exclusivist arguments coming from the Hindu right. Locating such plurality and engaging in internal subversion can help challenge historical justifications for Indian nationalism and contribute to decolonization, thus contesting the Hindu right on its own conceptual and genealogical turf. To advance this argument, the author provides a critical reinterpretation of the infamous “Puruṣa Sūkta,” which is often viewed as the locus classicus of the modern caste system, providing a novel interpretation that challenges caste hierarchy and supplies new resources for democratic thought and practice in India.

Keywords: Hindutva, Brahmanism, Hinduism, orientalism, colonialism, Indian political theory, Ṛg-Veda, nationalism

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