New Delhi-born Khilnani, who teaches politics at the University of London, traces the rise of the Indian state from the patchwork of territories bequeathed by the British Raj after its departure in 1947. Maintaining that today's India is ""the most intensely political society in the world,"" he believes it is through politics that his compatriots are entering the modern era. This is all the more remarkable, notes the author, for a state that ""regularly fails to protect its citizens against physical violence, it does not provide them with welfare, and it has not fulfilled its extensive ambitions to transform Indian society. Yet it is today at the very center of the Indian political imagination."" After detailing the socialist-leaning model Nehru envisioned for the state, Khilnani shows how his daughter and eventual successor as prime minister, Indira Gandhi, ""transformed the meaning of democracy"" for her fellow Indians so that it ""signified, simply, elections."" Though the book is insightful, the writing can be turgid: ""The Municipal Council's appreciation of the principles of rational urban cartography was undoubtedly impaired by an unusual excess of commemorative zeal."" For informed readers. (Jan.) FYI: For another recent, more personal account of India since independence, see Sashi Tharoor's India (Forecasts, June 23).