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Ideology and Politics

Bidyut Chakrabarty

By Reba Som
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2004, pp. 259, Rs. 350.00


This is a study of the three nationalist leaders who contributed immensely to India’s freedom struggle. Gandhi, Bose and Nehru seem to have provided the contrasting ideological characteristics to the anti-British campaign that finally culminated in Indian Independence in 1947. The subject is interesting for it also brings to the fore the ideological undercurrents within the Indian National Congress. Although Gandhi remained supreme in the struggle for freedom he had to negotiate constantly with conflicting political demands that, on occasions, appeared to have paralysed the nationalist platform. While Jawaharlal Nehru’s response to Gandhi was mostly strategic, Subhas Bose openly criticized the Mahatma for his ‘obscurantist’ ideas, which he believed, were harmful to India as a nation.   The book has four chapters dealing with the evolution of these ‘principal protagonists’ of the nationalist movement in India. The purpose is to understand their role in making the nation that was involved in a liberation struggle. With short biographies of Gandhi, Bose and Nehru, the author deals with their respective socio-political views. Gandhi was created by the experiments of satyagraha in South Africa. He was known before he arrived on the Indian political scene. While distancing himself from the prevalent political ideologies of constitutional loyalism and militant nationalism, Gandhi articulated his theory of ahimsa that immediately struck roots in the Indian soil.   Nehru was politically baptized by Gandhi who inspired him by his successful satyagraha campaigns in Champaran and Kheda. Whatever doubts he had about Gandhi was cleared after the latter led an effective Rowlatt satyagraha in 1919 (pp. 114-15). So for Nehru, Gandhi was a natural choice simply because of his capacity for mass mobilization despite adverse circumstances. Bose’s career graph was entirely different. His was a story of a meteoric rise of a bhadralok politician who was introduced to Bengal politics by C.R. Das after he resigned from the ICS. Like his mentor, C.R. Das, Subhas Bose understood the changing nature of politics with the rise of the peripheral groups in Bengal’s political arithmetic. He however failed to draw on these new constituencies of the nationalist movement presumably because of his failure to rise above the parochial bhadralok politics of Bengal. The biographical details of these nationalist leaders show how different were these principal protagonists in their political vocation. Of them, Gandhi was perhaps the most original thinker because the model which he provided was neither purely ...

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