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Professor Madhavan K Palat, Editor of The Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, will explore 'Nehru's democratic dilemmas' in the 2023 Nehru Memorial Lecture hosted by the King's India Institute. The Nehru Memorial Lecture is an annual lecture hosted by King’s India Institute and endowed by the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Trust. 

Nehru regarded democracy in India as the product of both the mass nationalism of the 20th century and of the ancient traditions of village councils or panchayats; it flourished by contesting both the despotism of colonialism and its caricature of British constitutionalism. He was devoted to parliamentary institutions, but dismayed by the self-serving nature of electoral politics. He was committed to the two-party system, but found himself presiding over what was effectively a one-party system, and hoping that the conservative-socialist divide would supersede the communal-secular one.

He offered three solutions to the tyranny of majorities: secularism; the projection of Mahatma Gandhi as an ideal to overcome hatred; and Buddhism as an ethical system of compassion and the golden mean. Despite being dogged by ambiguity and uncertainty about the flaws of India’s democracy, for Nehru the road to perfection lay in more of democracy.

This event is in-person only. The talk will be followed by a drinks reception.

About the speaker

Professor Madhavan K Palat

Madhavan K Palat was born in 1947 and read history at the Universities of Delhi and Cambridge. Thereafter he specialised in late Imperial Russian history and took the D.Phil. degree at the University of Oxford. He taught history at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University from 1974 to 2004, was Visiting Professor in Imperial Russian History at the University of Chicago in 2006, National Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla 2010-2011, and has been Editor of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru from 2011, seeing the project to completion in 2019.

His publications have been mainly on Russian and Soviet history, on workers, peasants, Eurasianism, Dostoevskii, Solzhenitsyn, Nikolai Roerich, nationalities policies, and Central Asia, the latest being the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture 'The Spiritual in Nehru’s Secular Imagination' on 14 November 2019, and 'Socialism in India', in The Cambridge History of Socialism, 2022.

View a selection of his publications.


Professor Niraja Gopal Jayal

Niraja Gopal Jayal joined King’s India Institute as Avantha Chair in October 2021. She was formerly Professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and presently also Centennial Professor (2019-23) at The London School of Economics, in the Department of Gender Studies. Her book Citizenship and Its Discontents (Harvard University Press and Permanent Black, 2013) won the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Prize of the Association of Asian Studies in 2015. Professor Jayal undertakes research in the fields of citizenship, democracy and welfare in India.

At this event

Event details

Nash Lecture Theatre (K2.31)
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS