Bipan Chandra is much more than what the anthology can hope to represent
Professor Bipan Chandra is a path-breaking historian of modern India. His prolific writings have a kindly passion and conviction about them to which his students and readers are magnetically drawn. While they clarify and enrich our understanding of different aspects of India's struggle for freedom and its legacy in independent India, they also inform his sensibilities that hope for an un-fractured society where freedom and progress are available to all. Now, some representative, succulent slices of his writings have been put together in one brilliant and convenient anthology and are introduced by one of his eminent students to enable the readers to easily access and savour his ideas. It is a very laudable effort.
The anthology begins with an important essay, ‘The Long-term Dynamics: Gandhiji and the Indian National Movement', which seeks to rescue the Gandhi-led national movement from the charge that it was a non-revolutionary movement to serve the bourgeois cause. Drawing from the Gramscian theory of ‘a war of position', Bipan Chandra has shown that the Indian national movement addressed and harnessed the anti-imperialist interests of all classes and that Gandhiji's non-violent strategy of S-T-S (Struggle-Truce-Struggle) was designed not to pander to the bourgeois interests but to suit the multi-class mass movement against the semi-democratic, semi-hegemonic colonial state. Periodic withdrawals of struggle which baffled or angered many of his disciples were, in fact, not meant to be capitulation to or compromise with imperialism; instead they were strategic retreats for introspection and realignment of forces before a reinforced return.
Gandhi and Nehru
There is also another essay which brings out the sturdy secular ideals and practices of Gandhiji, refuting the charge that the Mahatma's predilection for religion and its idioms fanned communal suspicion and antagonism. Another important piece of re-evaluation concerns the figure of Jawaharlal Nehru, whose fascination for Marxism was first shown by Bipan Chandra as a break from the Gandhian mould but later watered down to a ‘mild form of Fabianism.' But later he revised his views to show that Nehru himself had reassessed the Gandhian strategy for the Congress as one of war of position and also saw the organisation as moving in a socialist direction to fulfil its true democratic ideals. He points out that Nehru was one of the first to have broken out of the shackles of Stalin-Marxism to realise that while there could be no true democracy without socialism, there could be no socialism without democracy either.
Bipan Chandra was the first to emphasise the need to study colonialism as a ‘distinct social formation' or ‘colonial mode of production'.
In his ‘Colonialism and Modernization' he argues that colonialism dissolved pre-capitalist mode of production without ushering in capitalism, industrialisation or modernisation. Colonialism, contrary to what its advocates or apologists argued, was a structural obstruction to modernisation, and indeed its overthrow was the precondition of India's road to modernisation. In fact, he also shows that though Marx had, in 1853, spoken about the ‘regenerating' mission of the English in India, he had increasingly realised that such benefits as there were would not be realised until the Indians grew strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether.
Perhaps the finest work of Bipan Chandra is Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India which brought out the strong economic critique of colonialism, — ‘the un-British rule in India'— which the early nationalist leaders had consistently put forth, which while providing the ideological and experiential raison d'etre of the national movement, showed how undeservedly they were accused of political mendicancy. A chunk of it figures in the anthology.
Another essay offers Bipan Chandra's diagnosis of India's transformation from colonial to independent economy without recourse to the socialist model. The last part of the anthology contains, among others, his views on Bhagat Singh and reviews of Fukuyama's The End of History and Barrington Moore's The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. They all serve a sumptuous fare.
Bipan Chandra is, however, much more than what the anthology can hope to represent. His writings sprawl into the workings of colonialism and the dynamics of nationalism in India and how they have gone into the making of an independent nation. His critics see his love for Marx and admiration for Gandhi as an incongruous marriage. But he has never uncritically hypothecated his scholarship and conviction to any starchy fundamentalist ideology or political interest, and has all through marched to the music of his own drummer.