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Most scholars of Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar do not write out of purely biographical interest, because these men lived interesting and important lives.

They write about them to say something about India’s political history. Indeed, they write their lives as India’s political history. This debate will juxtapose this ‘big man’ style of historiography with histories whose chief protagonist is 'everyman' - subaltern, vernacular, ethnographic histories.

Participants in the debate will argue the virtues of each approach, explaining what it means to write India’s political history from the perspective of its great political leaders or from the vantage point of ordinary citizens.

While both kinds of histories are written, the stylised debate format aims to provide clarity and definition on the two methods, whilst also highlighting issues within historical method and theory.

The debate, with two scholars arguing each side, will be conducted in a language accessible to curious non-specialists.

This event was made in part possible by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 853051 for the project on "India's politics in its vernaculars".

This event is part of the  2023 Nehru Memorial Lecture series, and will be in-person only. 

The Debate


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.

'Big Man' side

Professor Madhavan 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 undertook a DPhil 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.

Professor Christophe Jaffrelot

Christophe is Avantha Chair and Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King's India Institute, and also Research Lead for the Global Institutes at King’s. He teaches South Asian politics and history at Sciences Po, Paris and is an Overseas Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He was Director of Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) at Sciences Po, between 2000 and 2008. He takes part in the editorial board of several journals and is the senior editor of a Hurst book series that he has founded in 1999, Comparative Politics and International Studies. He is also a Non Resident Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D.C. and is a regular commentator on Indian and Pakistani politics in France, UK, north America and in India where he writes a fortnightly column in The Indian Express.

'Everyman' side

Dr Milinda Banerjee

Milinda joined St Andrews in 2019 as Lecturer in Modern History. He specialises in History of Modern Political Thought and Political Theory, post-1700. Originally from Calcutta (India), he previously researched and taught at Heidelberg University, Presidency University Calcutta, and Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich. At St Andrews, he is a Programme Director for the MLitt in Global Social and Political Thought.

He specialises in the intersections of Indian/South Asian and global intellectual history and global political theory, as well as in political and economic theology. His doctoral dissertation has been published as 'The Mortal God: Imagining the Sovereign in Colonial India' (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Dr Anastasia Piliavsky

Anastasia is a Reader in Social Anthropology and Politics at the King's India Institute. She is a social anthropologist, who works on India’s democracy and the role of vernacular values, especially the hierarchical, in India’s social and political life. She is author of 'Nobody's People: Hierarchy as hope in a society of thieves' (Stanford 2020), editor of Patronage as politics in South Asia and Principal Investigator of a European Council-funded project on 'India's politics in its vernaculars'.

Anastasia works on India’s vernacular norms of personhood and relatedness, and the ways in which these orient India’s democratic process. She is especially interested in how hierarchical values, idioms of kingship, patronage and divinity, shape Indian conceptions of political representation and responsibility, and the bigger demotic visions of social and political good. She is working on showing the implications of this work for comparative democratic theory.

At this event

Christophe Jaffrelot

Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology

Anastasia Piliavsky

Reader in Social Anthropology and Politics

Event details

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