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Essential Readings


Partho Datta

MODERN SOUTH ASIA, HISTORY, CULTURE, POLITICAL ECONOMY: (SECOND EDITION)
By Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 253, Rs. 495.00

FROM PLASSEY TO PARTITION: A HISTORY OF MODERN INDIA
By Sekhar Bandyopadhyay
Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2004, pp. 523, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 5-6 May/June 2004

Sekhar Bandyopadhyay’s new textbook on Modern India and the second edition of Bose and Jalal’s chronologically more wide-ranging book, addressing essentially the same period, attest to two significant trends. The first is a reminder of how voluminous, far reaching and creative has been the output of South Asian Modernists in the last two decades. The second following from the first has been the confidence and international prestige of historians in this field. If the prolific production of textbooks in India and abroad is any indication, then “Modern India” has certainly gone global.       Before the large-scale onslaught of state sponsored communal history and the frightening normalization of revanchism in public life, historians of Modern India were more concerned with challenging and revising old colonial and nationalist stereotypes. Bipan Chandra’s Modern India written for schools and published by NCERT in many languages, was a fine example of this attempt. When this reviewer first began teaching Modern India to undergraduate students opting for B.A. Pass in the 1980s, the textbooks in circulation were already very dated. For students writing their exams in English there was the unimaginative and factual Advanced History of India by Raychaudhury, Majumdar and Datta, crusty imperial tomes like Oxford History of India by Perceval Spear et al., and the tendentious and misleading A New History of Modern India by Grover and Grover. It was therefore no surprise that university students happily took recourse to Bipan Chandra’s school textbook!       For Hindi students, who were the silent and neglected majority, Bipan Chandra was the only sensible book available, otherwise they depended on a translation of Grover and infamous kunjis by Usha Chopra, Kundra and Bawa and the ubiquitious blue jacketed Champion Guide. Factually incorrect, illogical and more dangerously, downright communal since they legitimized stereotypes as popular common sense, these books were and still are enormously popular since they fulfilled the lazy student’s last minute need for cramming before exams. It is certainly a shame that the stranglehold of these guides is yet to be broken.      The Honours student was only slightly better off since they could hardly depend on a single book. But even here a reliable textbook that addressed issues in a complex manner was desperately needed. And this was met to a great degree in 1983 when  Sumit Sarkar published his Modern India. Such was the range and depth of the book that it ...


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