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A Place in the Pantheon

Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph

By Paul Brass
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2011, pp. 612, price not stated


In An Indian Political Life: Charan Singh and Congress Politics, 1937 to 1961, Paul Brass has launched a multi-volume study of Charan Singh whom he regards as a neglected leader of post-Independence India. He seems to write  with the expectation that careful scholarship will win Charan Singh a place in the pantheon of modern India's greats. The first volume under review here is organized into seven parts encompassing 18 chapters. Parts I and VII are devoted to the Introduction and the Conclusion. The five substantive parts, II through VI, address 'Beginnings' (two chapters), 'Town versus the Village' (three chapters), 'Law and Order, Corruption, and Criminality in Post-Independence Uttar Pradesh,' (five chapters), 'Status, Hierarchy and Gender' (one chapter), 'Caste, Faction, and Party' (four chapters). Brass has used his considerable narrative powers and analytic skills to combine a biography of Charan Singh with case studies based on Charan Singh's papers that convey many of the important political events of his time. Charan Singh, b. 1902, is separated by two generations from Mohandas Gandhi (b. 1869) and by one generation from Jawaharlal Nehru, b. 1889. Gandhi died in 1948, Nehru in 1964, Charan Singh in 1987. Charan Singh's political career overlaps substantially with the two pre-eminent figures of the nationalist and post-Independence eras as well as with other well-known and much celebrated figures of those eras such as C. Rajagopalachari and Vallabhbhai Patel. It is hard to count the number of Gandhi biographies and then, of course, there are the 100 volumes of his collected work. The number of Nehru biographies stretches as far as the eye can see and the Selected Works, first and second series edited by the late S. Gopal, encompass many volumes. Rajagopalachari, 'Sardar' Patel and other nationalist generation leaders have been extensively written about and their writings collected, edited and published. Not so Charan Singh. It is this lacuna in the biographical and archival record of the greats of modern India that Paul Brass seeks to remedy. 'Charan Singh,' he tells us, 'was one of the last important leaders of the country whose active political life spanned the pre-Independence Congress political movement and post-Independence party politics up through the prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi' (p. 3). Paul Brass explains his project this way: The (multi-volume) project that begins with this volume attempts to straddle the conventional division between an individual biography and the history of an epoch ....While I could have confined these volumes ... by focusing exclusively ...

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