Rajni Kothari (1929 – 19 January 2015) was a pre-eminent Indian political scientist, political theorist, academic and writer. He was the founder of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 1963, a social sciences and humanities research institute, based in Delhi and Lokayan (Dialogue of the People), started in 1980 as a forum for interaction between activists and intellectuals. He was also associated with Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), International Foundation for Development Alternatives and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
One of the great political thinkers of the 20th-century, amongst his noted works include Politics in India (1970), Caste in Indian Politics (1973) and Rethinking Democracy (2005). In 1985, Lokayan was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, also known as “Alternative Nobel”.
Kothari was an only son of his father, a Jain trader. His mother died early in life.Kothari started his career as a lecturer at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (Baroda University), while working here he first received recognition in 1961, when his essays series, “Form and Substance in Indian Politics” were published in Economic and Political Weekly (then Economic Weekly) over six issues.
He had also started writing for Seminar, the journal published by Romesh Thapar. Thereafter he was invited by Professor Shyama Charan Dubey to become the Assistant Director of the National Institute of Community Development, Mussoorie. In 1963, he moved to Delhi, where using a personal grant of Rs. 70,000 given by Professor Richard L. Park, head of Asia Foundation’s India chapter, he started Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), in the premises of the Indian Adult Education Association at Indraprastha Estate, Delhi, before moving to its present location in Civil Lines, Delhi.
Here working along with Ashis Nandy, D.L. Sheth, Ramashray Roy, Bashiruddin Ahmed and others, pioneering works in social sciences were published over next two decades. In 1970 he published Politics in India, which first theorized Indian National Congress as a system rather than a party. Thereafter he published noted works like Caste in Indian Politics (1973) and Footsteps into the Future (1975).
During the early 1970s, he became to Congress-leader Indira Gandhi, and negotiating with the Congress-led Central government for Navnirman movement, a socio-political movement of 1974 against corruption in Gujarat, which ultimately led to the dissolution of the state government.
However, with the entry of Sanjay Gandhi, he distanced himself from Congress, and came close to Jaya Prakash Narayan and the Janata Party instead. After the Emergency of 1975, he moved away from political parties, and started her career as an activist. This phase culminated with the foundation of Lokayan – Dialogue of the People in 1980, a forum for interaction between activists, thinkers and intellectuals to talked about positive changes in the fields of religion, agriculture, health, politics, and education.
Soon, he became associated with “Citizens for Democracy”, and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) is a human rights body, established in 1976, where remained General Secretary from 1982 to 1984, and subsequently its President. He served as the chairman of Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and also remained member of the Planning Commission.
Besides scholarly articles he also wrote newspaper columns, and in 2002 published his memoirs titled, Memoirs: Uneasy is the Life of the Mind.
CSDS where is now an honorary fellow, in 2004 established the “The Rajni Kothari Chair in Democracy” in his honour, funded by Ford Foundation and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. On November 27, 2012, CSDS celebrated its 50th anniversary, presided over by Kothari now in his 80s.