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Remembering the Nationalist Movement

Salil Misra

By Amles Tripathi . Translated from the Bengali by Amitava Tripathi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xxvi 621, Rs. 1495.00


The importance of the book under review is not just that it remembers the nationalist movement at a time when it appeared to have been forgotten, but also tells us how to remember the nationalist movement. Chronologically speaking, reflections on the nationalist movement have gone through four stages. The first stage coincided with the phenomenon itself. Most of the writers were political practitioners and provided accounts of the movement from within. Through their works they attempted to theorize on the nationalist movement and make it intelligible to themselves and to their readers. The second phase belonged to the 1950s and 1960s which witnessed the mushrooming of official accounts of the national movement, and biographies of important leaders. The approach was one of admiration, almost to the point of being uncritical. The idea was to look upon the nationalist movement as a suitable foundation for the building of Independent India along modern and democratic lines. The researchers of the fifties and sixties highlighted those aspects of the national movement that could constitute an appropriate heritage for modern India. The third phase was one of disenchantment and disillusionment. This was also true of social science research in general. As far as the nationalist movement was concerned, this took two forms. One was a resurrection of R.P. Dutt from the forgotten shelves of historical writing, to transform his bland statements into slightly more nuanced historical formulations. And so, the class base of Congress, bourgeois character of the leadership including Gandhi, conspiracy theories regarding the origins of Congress, and various betrayals and ‘compromises’ began to be highlighted. The other input came from the Cambridge School which questioned some of the basic a priori assumptions made regarding the nationalist movement in the earlier stages. The movement was reduced from being a grand anti-imperialist nationalist struggle into a congeries of multiple factions pursuing their own interests in politics. Both the inputs did however advance the researches on the national movement in significant directions. They raised new and refreshing questions even though the answers were often simplistic and far-fetched. It was however in the fourth stage that the movement lost its exalted position as a major building block of modern India and was relegated to obscurity. Not just the national movement but many of the allied themes (workers and peasant movement, the growth of the Left, in other words, all the major themes entangled with the ...

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