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Ranjana Sheel

REVOLUTIONARY PAMPHLETS, PROPAGANDA AND POLITICAL CULTURE IN COLONIAL BENGAL
By Shukla Sanyal
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 219, $95.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 5 May 2015

'…To get rid of poison, a stronger dose of poison is required. This poison is Revolu-tion.’ This powerful message, among many others, from revolutionary literature of early twentieth century Bengal sought to impress upon people that colonial rule was irredeemable and only a revolution could bring change. Such messages radicalized or repre-sented a section of the population that waslargely young and educated, growing moreimpatient of ‘conventional’ politics, and de-manding urgent political change (p. 91).These also symbolized how politics was be-ing conceptualized as well as ways in whichrhetoric was employed in one significantgenre of print literature—the pamphlets andrevolutionary propaganda material. Emphasis on violence, both in its functional purpose (to bring about change in political arena), and its symbolism (as expression of a will to political sovereignty), was justified through contrasting images of good and bad,the legitimate and the illegitimate, the patriotic santans and brahmagyanees vs white rakshas as and debauched and demoniac firinghis (p. 96). Thickly interspersed with such examples, this book serves a three-fold purpose.Focussing on the propaganda pamphlets brought out by the anti-colonial revolutionary nationalists in early twentieth century Bengal, it first demonstrates the effectiveness of such a genre as a tool for information dissemination and opinion formation around distinctive concerns. The author emphasizesthat the importance of pamphlet literatureis in its insights into the processes throughwhich nationalist ideologies and practiceswere propagated and made acceptable to thetarget group. Secondly, it employs these to explore, from a different perspective, the contemporary political milieu that shaped na-tionalist consciousness and identities. Lastly, it highlights the propaganda literature as a distinct print genre, often overlooked or even dismissed as a significant class of primary historical source material. Its ‘avowedlyephemeral character’ has made it less subjectof scrutiny than, for example, newspaperpress. The author lays stress on the fact that as ‘literature of the instant’ the pamphlets provide a feel of the particular political moment as no other genre of print can (p. 13). Although the study does not mention the number of pamphlets included, a perfunctory add up reveals about twenty (?)pamphlets, some of them encasing a group of pamphlets under one name such as the Jugantar and Swadhin Bharat, and many were followed by several editions. Most of these were introduced between 1905 and 1918,beginning as anonymous pamphlets in 1905 (one of the first being Raja ke? Who is the King?) and as ‘a natural outgrowth’ of the trail set by revolutionary newspapers such as ...


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