Speaker Discusses Leaders, Events That Influenced Modern India

What is modern India? This question was at the heart of author and historian Ananya Vajpeyi’s presentation Tuesday at the University of Central Florida. The event, which drew about 75 people, was organized and hosted by the UCF Global Perspectives Office and The India Center at UCF.

Vajpeyi, born in New Delhi and raised in both India and Mexico, attended universities in India, England and the United States. Describing herself as often caught between Western society and her Indian heritage, she drew parallels between her own sense of identity and that of India. During colonial rule, she said, a disconnect occurred between the population and its religious and cultural traditions.

In her new book, “Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India,” which she referenced during her presentation, Vajpeyi seeks to remedy that problem. She identified several of India’s most influential figures who contributed to what she termed a modern and unique “Indian selfhood.” They included Mohandas Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R Ambedkar.

All five, Vajpeyi said, drew from the past to answer the question of India’s identity in a modernizing world. For instance, she suggested, Nehru used texts from the first republic and their self-aspiration to connect to an original quest and capacity for “swaraj,” or sovereignty. According to Vajpeyi, an examination of such historic texts allows for ethnic identity to return. The other founders, she pointed out, used art, architecture, religion and poetry to connect India’s past to its present.

Vajpeyi, who is a fellow at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi, noted that because of the five individuals mentioned above, India’s democracy represents a resolution between Western influences and its own vibrant culture.

When asked about the effects of English colonization on modern-day India, Vajpeyi answered, “The country, as we know it, would not have been the same if it were not for the contact between two cultures.”

In addition to the Global Perspectives Office and The India Center, sponsors and partners included The India Group, Anil and Chitra Deshpande India Program Endowed Fund, UCF Diplomacy Program, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, CliftonLarsonAllen, Orlando Area Committee on Foreign Relations, UCF International Services Center, UCF Political Science Department, UCF Women’s Studies Program, UCF Women’s Research Center, UCF LIFE, UCF Book Festival 2013 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center and the Global Connections Foundation.