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How History is Read

Aditya Nigam

By Shri Krishan
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 279, Rs. 380.00


The volume under review is the seventh in a series on modern Indian history, edited by well known historian Professor Bipan Chandra and two of his illustrious former students, Mridula and Aditya Mukherjee. Between them they represent what was once the unchallenged school of nationalist historiography and have acquired the formidable reputation of crusaders on behalf of that particular way of understanding modern Indian history.   The present volume too is a part of that crusade, marked by the shrillness of its missionary ardour. There is nothing really to quarrel about with the author so far as his discussion of ‘mobilizational politics’ is concerned. The book, apparently about “political mobilization” and “identity” in western India, is less about exploring the relationship between such mobilizations (nationalist, by definition, in that period) and the quest for identity; it is, rather, about knocking down perceived enemies of the kind of history that the author wishes to uphold.   And of course, as they say, all is fair in love and war. So, we need not even feel compelled to represent the position of the supposed opponent with any degree of fairness or accuracy. In fact, one often begins to wonder whether the kinds of misrepresentation/s of the adversary’s position that one encounters in texts such as these are a consequence of a deeper problem with the act of reading itself. In an ironical way, this problem of (mis)reading only confirms the point repeatedly made by the adversaries – the postmodernists, the Subaltern studies historians, and what have you! For it is precisely the act of meaning-making, completely liberated from the constraints of the written word, that makes such ‘readings’ possible. Here we have the true ‘postmodern’ reader.   Let us however, stay close to the text in order to ward off the ghost of postmodernism; let us take up a concrete instance for discussion. Let me add before that that this is just one instance among many and that where it comes to theory and theoretical questions, the author is at his liberated best. In a discussion of James Scott the author takes Douglas Haynes and Gyan Prakash to task for “crediting him” with shifting attention away from confrontationalist protest (and) organized struggle…to ‘everyday forms of resistance’ (p. 34). Thereafter he proceeds to assert that actually “there is no novelty in Scott’s analysis” because “Robert Redfield had (already) stressed the role of ‘self ...

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