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Portrait of a Moderate

Rajat Ray

By B.R. Nanda
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1977, x plus 520, 80.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 3 May-June 1977

The growing historical literature on the national movement in India is as yet comparatively poor in good biographical works. Two recent publications—S. Gopal's Nehru and now B.R. Nanda's Gokhale—will go a long way in filling this gap. Here is an authoritative, ex­tensively researched, scrupulously fair and extremely well-written biography of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who with Pherozeshah Mehta and Dinshaw Wacha formed the controlling cell within the Indian National Congress from the turn of the twentieth century to the early years of the First World War. Without any direct commentary or analysis, Nanda manages to convey through contemporary observations and incidence a picture of the domination of the British over the subject Indian popu­lation-their racial abasement and their subjection to manifold exploitation. An excellent pen picture of Pherozeshah Mehta and his relations with Gokhale, a penetrating analysis of the conflicting pulls and pressures on Morley and Minto in the process of drawing up a reform scheme for the Government of India, a realistic portrait of Tilak's personality and his policy towards the Congress in the conflicts of the Swadeshi era—these are but a few samples of the huge quan­tity of interesting historical material that is neatly woven into Gokhale's political career as the occasion arises. Historians of this era, such as Amalesh Tripathi and Sumit Sarkar, have not been notably sympathetic to the moderates. Some of the invective of the extremists—catch phases like the ‘three P's’ and the ‘three day tamasha’—­have stuck to the moderate leaders of the early Congress long after their death. A more favourable assessment of the moderate leadership begins to emerge from this biography, which helps restore the balance of historical judgement. The true role of that leadership can be dis­covered only in the context of the com­plex structure of the Raj. The Raj re­presented by a handful of Britishers ruling over a vast population—could not have been maintained by physical power alone. Consequently it shared power with Indians of influence or ability and the terms of sharing power had to be altered as circumstances changed and the feelings of Indians underwent a transfor­mation. By maintaining a connection with the British it was thus possible to win concessions altering the fundamental equations of power with the constitution­al structure of the Raj. This possibility was inherent in the basic structure of British rule ...

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