Ramachandra Guha’s book wins Elizabeth Longford Prize

‘Rebels Against the Raj’ tells the story of seven foreigners who joined India’s freedom struggle

Updated - June 14, 2023 03:10 am IST

Published - June 13, 2023 09:39 pm IST - Bengaluru

Ramachandra Guha

Ramachandra Guha

Historian and writer Ramchandra Guha’s book Rebels Against the Raj: Western Fighters for India’s Freedom has won the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography 2023. Guha has been awarded £5,000 (₹5 lakhs approximately) and a bound copy of Elizabeth Longford’s memoir, The Pebbled Shore.

The jury was chaired by Roy Foster. The judging committee also included Antonia Fraser and Flora Fraser (daughter and granddaughter of Longford respectively), Richard Davenport-Hines and Rana Mitter.

The Bengaluru-based historian’s book tells the story of seven foreigners — four British, Two American, and one Irish — who joined India’s freedom fight against British rule. The list of names includes Annie Besant, B.G. Horniman, Philip Spratt, Richard Ralph Keithahn, Samuel Stokes, Madeline Slade, and Catherine Mary Heilemann.

Jury’s praise

Roy Foster, the jury chair, commented on the book. “From an immensely strong field, the judges have chosen a book where the author’s deep empathy and impressive scholarship are lit up by a passionate regard for his subjects. Ramachandra Guha’s Rebels Against the Raj: Western Fighters for India’s Freedom profiles seven people from Britain, America, and Ireland who adopted India’s struggle for independence and, in doing so, found their own destinies. The experience of India changed their ideologies, their spirituality, and often their names.”

Stokes, Slade, and Heilemann had changed their names to Satyanand, Miran Behn and Sarala Beh, respectively after arriving in India.

“In tracing their relationships revolving around the magnetic figure of Gandhi, Guha adds a new perspective to the Mahatma’s life, on which he has already focused so rewardingly in his multi-volume biography. Alert to his subjects’ disappointments and occasional delusions, he salutes their commitment to a new way of life and their prescience about the needs of a post-colonial world and India’s place in it,” Mr. Foster said.

Twentieth anniversary

Rebels Against the Raj shows how historical biography can illuminate the temper of the times through immersion in individual lives. As Guha points out, oppression does not disappear with the ending of colonial rule, and the ideas and priorities incisively drawn out in this book deserve urgent attention in today’s India,” he added.

The award was founded in 2003 by Flora Fraser and Peter Soros to commemorate British historian Elizabeth Longford. Every year it rewards exemplary works in historical biography. The prize is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Previous winners of the award include The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling by David Gilmour, How to Survive the Titanic: The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay by Frances Wilson, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume 1: Not for Turning by Charles Moore and Julian Jackson’s A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle.

The book has been published by Penguin Random House in India, William Collins in the U.K., and Alfred Knopf in the USA. Guha tweeted expressing gratitude to all the editors and publishers.

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