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March Toward Independence

Atulindra Nath Chaturvedi

By B.R. Nanda
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 1158, Rs. 645.00


The men and women who walked the stage of history in India from the days of the Renaissance to the division of the country into India and Pakistan comprised the most variegated group possible, reflecting virtually every strata of society and shade of opinion. In such a talented era, it would have been difficult for just anyone to rise above the rest and fashion a unique niche for themselves. It is a tribute to the uniqueness of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru that they were able to rise above their contemporaries, but also transcend their times.   Three Statesmen, one of the volumes in Oxford’s recent omnibus series, comprises three books written by the doyen of Indian historians, B.R. Nanda—Gokhale: The Indian Moderates And The Raj; Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography; Jawaharlal Nehru: Rebel And Statesman. I must make a small caveat here. The Gandhi biography is the abridged version, and not the complete original. This is a little like listening to the lyrics of a great song, sans the music. Moreover, a publishing house as prestigious and admired as Oxford could have reset the Gandhi section, instead of using the old typeface, which makes reading a big strain, and is grossly out of step with that of the other two books. And I feel that it might have been better to have published Nanda’s classic The Nehrus, and used a few chapters from Rebel And Statesman to fill out the account of Nehru’s life after the death of his father. The Gandhi biography was written in 1958, and on its appearance was greeted by critics and the public by a level of enthusiasm not generated by any subsequent book on the Mahatma. It was the first complete biography of Gandhi, and the first to be based on researches into the archives which were then being opened up, changing our knowledge and understanding of the man and his era. If I remember correctly, Nanda was, in fact, the first to explore the Gandhi papers. Forty years later, it still remains the single-best book on Gandhi. And the Mahatma, in afterlife, continues to live and breathe.   With Gokhale, Nanda reached the heights of his powers as a historian. Single-handedly, he rescued an entire generation of Indian nationalists which had been consigned to the department of historical amnesia and omission, wiped off the mud that had ...

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