1st Edition

Indian Liberalism between Nation and Empire The Political Life of Gopal Krishna Gokhale

By Elena Valdameri Copyright 2022
    256 Pages
    by Routledge

    256 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book analyses the political thought and practice of Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866–1915), preeminent liberal leader of the Indian National Congress who was able to give a ‘global voice’ to the Indian cause.

    Using liberalism, nationalism, cosmopolitanism and citizenship as the four main thematic foci, the book illuminates the entanglement of Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s political ideas and action with broader social, political and cultural developments within and beyond the Indian national frame. The author analyses Gokhale’s thinking on a range of issues such as nationhood, education, citizenship, modernity, caste, social service, cosmopolitanism and the ‘women’s question,’ which historians have either overlooked or inserted in a rigid nation-bounded historical narrative. The book provides new enriching dimensions to the understanding of Gokhale, whose ideas remain relevant in contemporary India.

    A new biography of Gokhale that brings into consideration current questions within historiographical debates, this book is a timely and welcome addition to the fields of intellectual history, the history of political thought, Colonial history and Indian and South Asian history.




    • Why Gopal Krishna Gokhale?
    • Thematic foci and chapter preview
    • Literature and sources

    Chapter 1: Liberalism

    • The promises of Western education
    • Teacher and journalist
    • Learning at Ranade’s feet
    • Coming to the political fore
    • Amidst ‘the stormy and uncertain sea of public life’
    • Conclusion

    Chapter 2: Nationalism

    • Geographical entity or nation?
    • From India to Indians: A civil religion
    • Building the nation beyond the nation
    • Accommodating difference: The Muslim question
    • National pedagogies: The ‘depressed classes’
    • Conclusion

    Chapter 3: Cosmopolitanism

    • A Hindu in the heart of empire: A passage to England
    • Campaigning for the Indian cause in the metropole
    • A liberal empire?
    • The Universal Races Congress
    • A moral education for the Indian youth
    • The South African question: A means to other ends?
    • Diaspora, empire and nation
    • Conclusion

    Chapter 4: Citizenship

    • Envisioning citizenship, making citizens
    • Serving India?
    • Teaching temperance
    • Social rights between welfare and charity
    • Mass education, national development, democracy
    • Conclusion




    Elena Valdameri is a postdoctoral researcher at the Chair for History of the Modern World, ETH-Zurich, Switzerland. She is a historian of modern South Asia, with specific interest and expertise in the history of political thought and the anticolonial movement.

    "In this carefully researched and elegantly written political biography, Elena Valdameri situates Gopal Krishna Gokhale amid the transnational context in which he imbibed and reconfigured liberal thought. Gokhale emerges as a complex figure, engaged in the project of the creation of a fair and inclusive society through social service and welfare, yet who ultimately saw the colonial state as a force for unification. Drawing on Gokhale’s extensive writings and reading these alongside recent intellectual histories of the tensions inherent in liberalism and nationalism, Valdameri provides us with a reassessment of Gokhale’s vision for a sacralised nation, detailing his engagement with the treatment of Overseas Indians; his work with the Servants of India Society to create a path to imperial citizenship; and the extent to which his politics remained tethered to his cultural-religious habitus."

    -Kama Maclean, University of Heidelberg, Germany

    “A decade of scholarship on Indian liberalism—developed against the backdrop of modern India’s dramatic descent into political illiberalism—has revived some interest in Gokhale and his fellow moderates. […] Elena Valdameri offers a deeply nuanced and detailed account of Gokhale’s ideas and politics. This is not a narrative biography. Rather, Valdameri focuses on four dimensions of Gokhale’s thought—liberalism, nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and citizenship—picking apart certain ideological constructs and contradictions. She pulls no punches. At times, Valdameri can be highly critical of her subject’s conservatism, his patronizing attitudes, and his Brahminical world view. What emerges, therefore, is a cautionary tale about Indian liberalism. In Gokhale’s hands, Indian liberal politics could be both remarkably myopic and remarkably ambitious.”

    -Dinyar Patel, S. P. Jain Institute of Management and Research, India. H-Soz-Kult, 2022.


    “[This monograph] isn’t a biography of Gokhale but, rather, an accurate, dense, and keen analysis  of  his  political  thought.  Accordingly,  the  volume  doesn’t  follow  a  chronological  path,  but  is organized around some major themes, focused on the guiding ideas in Gokhale’s political thought […] Liberalism,  Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism,  Citizenship  […] The merit of Elena Valdameri’s book is to have reconstructed [Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s personality] in all its complex and fascinating nuances.”

    -Maurizio GriffoUniversity of Naples “Federico II”, Italy. Kervan –International Journal of Afro-Asiatic Studies 26(2022).