Independent India: Myths of Freedom and Development

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Taylor Sherman SAR M.10


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

Focusing on the early decades after India gained independence in 1947, this course raises questions about the nature of freedom and the task of development faced by postcolonial nations. The course begins with a study of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Students will survey his philosophy and his style of leadership while exploring the myth of the strong male leader.  Students will then question the nature of secularism in India by examining the treatment of Muslims as well as the politicisation of India’s Islamic monuments and their preservation. The course moves on to query how socialist India was by reading political theory from Communists, Socialists, Gandhians and others, as well as by exploring Indian programmes in education, health and family planning. Similarly, the course will question the nature and extent of economic development achieved in this period by studying famine, urbanisation and scientific advancement.  Next, students will investigate how strong India’s state was by scrutinising India’s Constitution and surveying the problem of corruption in the ranks of the police and bureaucracy. Finally, the course will cover India’s foreign policy, asking students to probe the meaning of Non-Alignment, and inspect the character of India’s relations with Indians Overseas and with its neighbours, including China and Pakistan. While the main focus is India, the course will involve comparative thinking about circumstances and policies in other countries around the world. Throughout the course we will watch films, read fiction and view art and architecture produced at the time to get a sense of the popular and artistic response to the challenges of freedom and development.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT and 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

Indicative reading

Guha, R. (2007). India after Gandhi: the History of the World's Largest Democracy. London, Macmillan.

Khilnani, S. (1997). The Idea of India. London, Penguin.

Chatterji, J. (2007). The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India, 1947-1967. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Zamindar, V. F.-Y. (2007). The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories. New York, Columbia UP.

Gopal, J. N. (2013). Citizenship and its Discontents: An Indian History. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Sherman, T.C. (2015) Muslim Belonging in Secular India: Negotiating Citizenship in Postcolonial Hyderabad. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Kavuri-Bauer, S. (2011) Monumental Matters: The Power, Subjectivity and Space of India’s Mughal Architecture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Granville, Austin (1999) Working a Democratic Constitution. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Chatterjee, P. (1993). The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Chatterjee, P. (ed). (1998). Wages of Freedom: Fifty Years of the Indian Nation-State. Delhi, OUP.

Gould, W. (2011). Bureaucracy, Community and Influence in India: Society and the State, 1930s - 1960s Abingdon, Routledge.

Abraham, I. (2014). How India Became Territorial: Foreign Policy, Diaspora, Geopolitics. Palo Alto, Stanford UP.

Bhagavan, M. (2012). The Peacemakers: India and the Quest for One World. New Delhi, Harper Collins Publishers India.

McGarr, P. (2013). The Cold War in South Asia: Britain, the United States and the Indian Subcontinent 1945-65. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Phalkey, J (2013). Atomic State: Big Science in Twentieth Century India. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan.

Tyabji, N. (2015). Forging Capitalism in Nehru's India: Neocolonialism and the State, c.1940-1970. New Delhi, OUP.

Chibber, V. (2003) Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Kale, S. S. (2014). Electrifying India: Regional Political Economies of Development. Palo Alto, Stanford UP.


Essay (30%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3000 words) and other (20%) in the ST.
Other (15%) in the MT and LT.

Document Analysis (20%, 500 words) in the ST.

Fieldwork video gobbet (15%) in the MT and LT. The main theme of the course is political myths. For this project, students will be asked to find an object in London (or anywhere in the world, but they must visit it in person) that is related to one of the myths discussed in the course. Students will work in pairs to make a roughly 3-minute video describing the object and how it relates to the course. They will then upload the video and other students will comment on it on Moodle; the video and comments will be brought into seminar discussions.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Capped 2016/17: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills