In the recently published Indian edition of his 2015 book, Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi and The Risk of Democracy, the academic Aishwary Kumar—a professor of political philosophy and intellectual history at the University of California-Santa Cruz—argues that it is time we move beyond examining Indian political life merely in terms of its difference from western counterparts, as postcolonial theory sometimes tends to do. Instead, by revisiting the intellectual legacies of BR Ambedkar and Mohandas Gandhi, and their thinking on equality, Kumar proposes we use India as an exemplary model for analysing global politics.
In September, Appu Ajith, an editorial assistant at The Caravan, spoke to Kumar about the premise of his book. Kumar said that one of its central concerns is “to speak to the problem of inequality in a way that is both fundamentally Indian, and tragically global or tragically universal.”
Appu Ajith: The question of equality is central to the book. How did you stumble upon this particular topic and decide on to taking it forward?
Aishwary Kumar: I did not start out as a scholar or as an intellectual biographer of these two thinkers. My intention was to write an account of a philosophical history of the political, in the anti-colonial world. What is it that allows a certain kind of politics around the question of freedom and self-determination to emerge, and once it emerges, what is it that is lacking in this politics that allows for something like a critique to also emerge from within that tradition? The moment you start thinking about critique you think about Ambedkar, because it is in him that the most glaring silences of this entire tradition of thinking about politics acquires its most formidable and radical form. I stumbled upon a question which was simply about the nature of inequality—that is both specific to Indian traditions, but also in their violence, universal.