New Login   

How Not to Debate with Our Past

Arun K. Patnaik

Edited by V.R. Mehta and Thomas Pantham
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. xxvi 481, Rs. 1700.00


The volume under review is an excellent addition in a world of scarce serious literature on India which, as Rajni Kothari describes, is ‘a mammoth virgin laboratory of original research’. As most of the literature on Indian thought has essentially come from non-theory specialists, I consider the present volume a welcome departure from this tradition by engaging many political theory specialists of Indian thought. The volume opens with Bidyut Chakrabarty’s paper (Radicalism in Modern Indian Social and Political Thought: Nationalist Creativity in the Colonial Era) which claims that there are two types of intellectuals in Modern India: social radicals and political radicals. Social radicals like Rammohan Roy, Jotiba Phule, Dayanand Saraswati argued for social reforms of religious orthodoxies, customs and institutions like marriage, caste and so on, while they supported or pressed for a greater role for the British state that introduced ‘social reform’ legislations. Chakravarty argues that political radicals like Tilak, Gandhi, Nehru and Bose on the other hand created an inner core in the social sphere which was claimed as a sovereign space where the British state had no right to initiate reform legislations and thus they pressed for Swaraj. The author then argues that political radicals were anti-colonial rather than anti-traditional whereas social radicals were anti-traditional rather than anti-colonial.   Political radicals were subdivided into two groups: political extremists like Tilak, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Bipin Chandra Pal, and mass leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Bose and others who introduced many political techniques for mass mobilization, while discarding the extremist tactics of their earlier generation. Both the groups were anti-colonial. While extremists invoked the idea of Swaraj, they raised more of Hindu spiritual symbols like the Gita, the Vedas and other Hindu tracts that celebrate masculine virtues and thereby effected a marginalization of the traditions of the Muslim and other non-Hindu religious communities. They confused ‘the Hindu tradition with the Indian tradition’ by overlooking ‘the cross-fertilization of multiple traditions in Indian civilization’ (p. 11). When Chakrabarty narrates many individual extremist thinkers and their nationalist projects, he argues exactly the opposite and the above generalization does not match his specific formulations. He shows how Pal was intensely aware of defining Swaraj for all religions (p. 13). Vivekananda was aware of defining a new Indian as a cross-fertilization of the ‘Vedantic soul and a Muslim body’. (p. 14-15) He also shows that by masculine virtues they meant a greater commitment and temperance in a ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.