Independent India: Myths of Freedom and Development

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Diva Gujral


This course is available on the BA in History, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Relations and History, BSc in Politics and History and BSc in Social Anthropology. 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 tasks of development and modernisation faced by postcolonial nations. The course begins with a brief 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. The course will then cover India’s foreign policy, asking students to probe the meaning of Nonalignment, and inspect the character of India’s relations with Indians Overseas and with its neighbours, including China and Pakistan. Students will then turn to the nature of secularism in India by examining the treatment of Muslims who remained in India after the creation of Pakistan. This section also probes official attempts to reform Hinduism and improve the lives of Dalits (former untouchables) in India. Students then are asked to query how socialist India was by reading political theory from Communists, Socialists, Gandhians and others. Next, students interrogate the nature and extent of economic development achieved in this period by studying the strengths and weaknesses of international aid supplied to the country, as well as India’s own development programmes. Students will then explore how Indians expressed their visions of modernity in the realms of science, art & architecture and the emancipation of women. Finally, the course concludes by scrutinising the Constitution and the conduct of India’s first democratic elections. Using a variety of primary source materials, with a strong element of film and visual arts, this course asks students to see India and Indians in new ways.


Learning engagement includes seminars, recorded content, small group meetings and asynchronous Moodle posts. There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay (2000 words) in the MT, and 1 gobbet exercise (600 words) in the MT. 

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) and document analysis (20%) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3000 words) in the ST.
Video gobbet (15%) in the MT and LT.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

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