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A Historical Narrative

Amiya P. Sen

By Leah Renold
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 220, Rs. 550.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 10 October 2005

As historical narratives go, the present wok is lucid, interesting and eminently readable. A certain difficulty with narrative style that I noticed over the course of time was that of repetitiveness, whereby similar historical details about an individual, event or institution are replicated at several places. This is a problem that could have been easily overcome with more careful editing.   Structurally, the work is divided into two parts. The first of these deals with the formative years of the Banaras Hindu University, situating it within a general environment of Hindu cultural nostalgia but no less importantly, concerns of the Empire. Uniquely, the BHU, founded in 1915, represented the first attempt at teaching traditional Indian subjects within the framework of a typically western institution, the university. Here, Renold’s thesis is that the university originated in the coalescence and convergence of multiple interests. At one level, it reflected Hindu anxieties about the denationalizing, ‘godless’ education introduced by the British in India. At the same time, it seems to have been strategically tied to hopes entertained by the colonial state about a deeply religious education for Hindus possibly countering the growth of political radicalism within that community. Support for this enterprise also came from Indian ruling houses that seem to have been no less alarmed by the rise of Bolshevism and ‘new fangled’ ideas of social democracy than were spokesmen for the Empire and global capitalism.   In the essays included under Part I, Renold demonstrates with a wealth of detail how it was the mediation of Europeans like Annie Besant that made the whole scheme for a new university acceptable to successive Viceroys and the Hindu orthodoxy alike. In a series of books she wrote between 1903 and 1906 ( generally called the Sanatandharma series) Besant effectively appropriated traditional Hindu notions of loyalty to the sovereign in the service of the Empire. Her falling back on authoritative and traditionally revered texts like the Manusmriti ensured encouragement and support from Hindu spokesmen like Madan Mohan Malaviya, the first Vice Chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University. Part I ends with a fairly useful discussion of the tensions that eventually developed between Malaviya and Gandhi following the launching of the noncooperation movement. Gandhi interpreted Malaviya’s declining to support the call for boycotting government schools and colleges as political insensitivity towards the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs. On hindsight, however, this seems uncharitable given Malaviya’s active involvement in the ...

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