05 December, 2020

Come To Lord Over Us

The Indian need for a king conflated the benevolent Hobbesian monarch with the need to overthrow British rule, while drawing much from colonialism

Photograph by Alamy
Come To Lord Over Us

Kingship was of supreme imp­ortance in Europe where the king was seen as the representative of God on earth. Hobbes in his Leviathan wrote of the abs­olute monarch stilling turmoil and bringing true governance. In 19th century India, ground under the heel of colonial rule, writers and activists looked for the figure of a div­ine hero king to provide direction and shower the benefits of just rule—a deshadhinayak, as Tagore called him. This forms the theory behind Milinda Banerjee’s seminal text, The Mortal God. He posits the theory that 19th century India was on the lookout for a ruling figure who was to be pitted against the British empire, a quest that, oddly enough, seems to linger even today. Banerjee traces the quest through a series of variations in which the ruler is first sought as emp­eror and then seen through various princes as an extension of the family, envisaged as one unifying figure, fol-lowed by different icons put forward by subaltern subjects seeking recognition and finally elevated to messiah status.

Oddly enough,...



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