Delhi, Oxford, Moscow.

The Intellectual and Political Spaces of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Philosopher, Ambassador to Soviet Russia, and President of India

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, philosopher, academic, intellectual, President of the Republic of India, spent his life in building and crossing unexpected bridges: between the multifarious activities he undertook during his lifetime, between places that he chose to inhabit, or where he was sent. His multifaceted profile thus led him from his native southern India to the seat of the British Empire in Calcutta, to academic citadels in Britain and in the United States, and later, at the heart of the Cold War, as ambassador to the Soviet Union. His trajectory allows us to follow these multilateral exchanges at different scales and leads us to consider the complex exchanges between distant places belonging to civilizational blocs like Europe, India, and Russia beyond traditional binary poles, while viewing them in very contemporary contexts. The intervention examines how Radhakrishnan’s biography challenges our classic understandings of colonial and post-colonial categories and relationships.

Arundhati Virmani, historian of colonial and contemporary India, teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Marseilles. Her current work on the construction of a democratic culture in India combines an examination of politics from above with an analysis of transformations in social and cultural practices (A National flag for India. Rituals, Nationalism and the Politics of Sentiment (Delhi, Permanent Black, 2008). Her books reflect a sensitivity to the issues of the present (L'Inde une puissance en mutation, Paris, La documentation française, 2001; Les Indiens, Paris. H. Dougier, 2016 (Un britannique au cœur du Raj, Paris, Autrement, 2001; (ed.), Political Aesthetics. Culture, Critique and the Everyday, London, Routledge, 2015; Aesthetic perceptions of urban environments, Routledge, forthcoming 2021).
Her intellectual and academic career between India and France has enabled her to take a distant, but always involved, look at Indian society and its cultural dynamics, perceived both from the outside and the inside.

Andrei Soldatov provided the comment. He is a Russian investigative journalist, co-founder, and editor of, a watchdog of the Russian secret services’ activities. At present, Andrei is a nonresident Senior Fellow with the Center for European Policy Analysis. He is a regular Visiting Fellow at the Eurasia in Global Dialogue Program at the IWM.

Andrei is co-author with Irina Borogan of The New Nobility. The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (PublicAffairs, 2010), The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries (PublicAffairs, 2015) and The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia's Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad (PublicAffairs, 2019).