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Rajat Kanta Ray

By Manu Goswami
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 401, Rs. 695.00


Manu Goswami makes the point that India is not, and was not, a figment of the imagination. He shows how a real entity called India was forged in the colonial period. Significantly, it has been followed by a pioneering collective work edited by Irfan Habib, namely India—Studies in the History of an Idea (2005). It was also preceded by my work, The Felt Community: Commonality and Mentality before the Emergence of Indian Nationalism (2003). All three books reflect a common concern with the idea of India in history, and how real the idea was. Between Goswami’s postmodernist, broadly subalternist, version, Habib’s Marxist persuasion and my own liberal mainstream angle, there are ideological differences. Nevertheless, there is some degree of consensus that the idea of India was real (Habib, Ray), or that it became so (Goswami). To put it plainly, India was no mere ‘discourse’. Contrary to what the older subalternists maintained, Manu Goswami makes the point that it was not just an imagined entity. In other words, postcolonial theory is no longer simply ‘imagining India’; it is in the midst of ‘producing India’. That is a considerable distance for a subalternist offshoot, or variation, to travel. Whereas Habib and I have concentrated on the realization of the idea of India in precolonial times, Goswami, like all other postmodernists and postcolonial theorists, postpones the development to the colonial period.   In Goswami’s own perception of the role he is to play in historiography, his work ‘develops a novel account of the emergence, trajectory, and contradictory character of Indian nationalism’ (p. 5). In a strangely reminiscent echo of Ranajit Guha’s notorious 1982 pronouncement reducing all previous historiography to colonialist/nationalist and therefore blinkered, Goswami finds all previous scholarship shallow, and claims for himself an account ‘more fundamental than the single-stranded chronology that nationalist discourse gave itself and that subsequent scholarship has either reproduced or left unexamined’ (p. 8). As every informed Indian historian would recognize, Guha’s claim was, and Goswami’s claim is, drivel.   Setting aside the youthful indiscretion, we can see here a certain freshness of perspective. Goswami handles a large theme of all-India significance with detailed material from the critical U.P. area. From a fresh angle, that is to say, fresh in subalternist writings, he shows how imperialism fostered nationalism. Tentatively, as a timid post-subtalternist, he begins to suggest that colonialism was not just a discourse: it was, he ...

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