THE book presents an impartial and perceptive assessment of the role of the Indian National Congress in India's struggle for freedom. The author, an eminent historian, has used extensive statistical data to demonstrate the impact of prevailing domestic and international conditions on the evolution of the politics of the Congress party and the Muslim League, as well as of other political and social groups. His in-depth analysis covers the interplay of power politics between the Centre the provinces, and the various grass-roots organizations on the one hand and of the push and pull of Hindu—Muslim communal politics on the other. The book addresses with clarity why and how different classes and communities came to raise their voice against the imperial rule, the circumstances in which different groups and parties either joined or left the Congress platform and the quality of leadership needed to mobilize the support of both the affluent and the deprived class in the pan-India struggle.
The author's use of psychological insights to interpret the different phases and the eventual outcome of the clash of the British, Hindu. and Muslim protagonists makes the work a unique addition to the corpus of modern Indian history.
This is the first English translation of the Bengali classic Swadhinata Sangrame Bharater Jatiya Congress: 1885-1947 (first published in 1990). This translation also carries a foreword by Dr Rudrangshu Mukherjee.
The late Professor Amales Tripathi was the
Head of the History Department, Presidency
College, Kolkata (1957-69), and the Ashutosh
Professor of History at the University of
Calcutta (1969-86). He was the recipient of
the Rabindra Purashkar (1992) for the Bengali
original of the book.
Amitava Tripathi the translator of the
book, is a History Tripos from Trinity College,
Cambridge, and a former Fellow of the Center
for International Affairs, Harvard University. He
has served as Ambassador of India to Brazil,
Switzerland, and the Vatican.
I must confess that I was never formally taught by Amales Tripathi
because when I joined Presidency College as an undergraduate he
had already become Ashutosh Professor of Modern and Medieval
History in the Department of History at the University of Calcutta.
The misfortune of not being his student was made up by the privilege of being his colleague, albeit one of the juniormost, in the history department. There is a serious understatement in describing
myself as a colleague. If truth be told, we became very close both
intellectually and personally. I cherish the affection he showered
upon me even though he was fully aware that on many issues to
do with the writing and interpretation of history my views differed
sharply from those he held. But this did not stand in the way of
affection (from his side) and respect (from my side) and intellectual
interaction. I begin with the relationship I had with Amalesbabu
(that is how I always called him) as that is going to colour what I
am going to write, however much I try to be objective about him.
Amales Tripathi was a legendary student in his time and a
legendary teacher. He was also phenomenally erudite. Tapan
Raychaudhuri says he has never known a pundit like Amalesbabu.
Generations of students who attended his lectures were captivated
by the learning that he brought to his teaching, especially his use
of literature. When teaching Indian nationalism, Bankimchandra
and Rabindranath would come effortlessly into his analysis and
when teaching the Industrial Revolution, his exposition would be
lit up by references to Blake and Dickens. From my innumerable
private conversations with him, I know that he was an extraordinarily sensitive reader of literature, and my own impression is that
literature was perhaps his first love. Embedded in this love and his
love of history was a sense of wonder. He never ceased to learn. He
loved books and loved talking about them.
An unending quest to learn and to know informed his scholarship. This explains why his writings embraced so many differ-
ent branches of history. His first book, Trade and Finance in the
Bengal Presidency, 1792-1833 (published in 1956), showed how
in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries imperialism
worked through a network of interests and how these interests
fortified colonial exploitation. This was written before economic history became fashionable among Indian historians and was
therefore a path-breaking book in its time. It is a pity that it never
received the recognition it deserved. In The Extremist Challenge,
Amalesbabu explored the interrelationship of ideas and the politics of militant nationalism. This was a book that resonated with
literary references, allusions, and quotations. In Vidyasagar: The
Traditional Moderniser, he analysed the interaction of tradition
and modernity in the life of one of the most remarkable individuals in nineteenth-century Bengal.
Amalesbabu was also a prolific writer in Bengali. He belonged
to a long and distinguished line of Bengali men of letters who were
bilingual in their writing and scholarship. His English was as lucid
and as sweet to the ear as his Bengali or one could say it the other
way round. His immersion in historical writing was evident in a
collection of essays titled Itihas 0 Oitihasik. Here he explicated
and then discussed the ideas, and their implications, of historians
dating back to Herodotus and Thucydides, and he then moved to
the writings of modern masters.
The major Bengali book he wrote was on the history of the
Indian National Congress and its contribution to the Indian
national movement. It was first serialized in Desh, the leading
cultural and literary magazine in Bengali, and then brought out
as a composite book. The book that the reader now holds in his
hands is a translation of that Bengali book. I have no doubt that
had Amalesbabu written it originally in English, he would have
conceived of and written it differently. He was too sensitive an
author to be oblivious of his intended readership. Nonetheless,
it is good to have a translated version of the Bengali work. The
book bears out some of the qualities of Amalesbabu that I have
discussed earlier. The contents of this book shows two things very
clearly. One is the depth of Amalesbabu's research in the relevant
archives. And two, the range of his reading. The book surveys the
entire secondary literature of the period. There are sections of
the book that are constructed almost as a dialogue and critique
of existing historiography. Amalesbabu discusses the views and
analyses of various historians who have written on a problem or an
episode and then proceeds to state his own views, noting his own
differences with the existing literature.
Amalesbabu's analysis of the Congress and the Indian national
movement was on the whole positive. This is not surprising from
a man of his generation. He grew up when the Congress and the
movement it led was an inspiration to young men and women.
Amalesbabu was not unaware of the inadequacies of the Congressled freedom struggle and the compromises within it but he was
not tormented by any post-colonial scepticism about the independence that was achieved and about the nation state that was born
out of the national movement. But for the compromises of the
national movement, especially the Partition and the violence that
overwhelmed India at the very moment it kept its tryst with destiny, he was not willing to hold the Congress alone responsible.
He saw it as a collective failure. The book ends with lines from
Tagore, haunting and poignant: 'Who is it that you malign?/ Bow
your head/ This is your sin and mine.'
Amales Tripathi was very fond of quoting the dictum of Marc
Bloch (a historian he admired above all others) that a historian's
work was akin to that of a lute maker. The lute that Amalesbabu
fashioned for himself played always for his chosen muse till the
great silence claimed him and his lute in June 1998. He was Clio's
Although following a proper chronological order, this work is an
analytical and not a descriptive history of India's struggle for freedom and the role played in it by the Indian National Congress
(INC). No particular event is significant in itself. It is only in the
context of a wider historical framework that the importance of
a single event must be judged through its interaction or conflict
with a wide range of other events. Unless one understands this
architectonics one may miss the wood for the trees.
At the outset, I should specify that my subject is primarily
focused on the role of the INC in the freedom movement. The
parts played by the other political parties have been examined
within this context, since they had, at various times, either joined
the freedom struggle or remained aloof from it. The various revolutionary parties, including the Communist Party of India, come
into the limelight in this narrative whenever they ally with or
oppose the Congress Party. This book does not purport to project
a comprehensive picture of a hundred years of Indian history. If
historians like Lefebvre or Soboul have been unable to present a
comprehensive history of a mere decade of the French Revolution,
it would surely be hubris on my part try to do full justice to all the
other players while essentially writing a history of the Congress
As it is, writing the history of the six plus decades of the
Congress is difficult enough. There was a time when the INC’s
role in furthering India's quest for independence from alien rule
affected the entire nation, from the remotest hamlet to the elite
mansions of the cities. A complete history of the Congress requires
much greater focus on local perspectives than on the national. The
Cambridge School has, in fact, dazzled us with its work along this
line of research. But by placing excessive stress on local organizations, leaders, and events, they have virtually reduced the great
national struggle for independence to a farcical power struggle
between different Indian elite groups, each seeking special dispensation from the imperial authorities.
The Cambridge School sought to establish two principal
1. In spite of its imperialist agenda, the British Raj had activated and energized the political scene in India. The symbiotic relationship between the Raj on the one hand, and the
local princely, landowning, and affluent classes, on the other,
rested on the latter group's absolute autonomy in local affairs,
in exchange for payment of taxes and rents. When, from the
middle of the nineteenth century, the Raj began to gradually
encroach on this area of local authority in order to fulfil its
imperialist ambitions, its actions became the main irritant in
fuelling discontent. Sops, such as local self-government and
elected legislative assemblies, succeeded in checking this rising tide till around 1919. Moreover, on the advice of crafty
bureaucrats like Risley, potential divisions within the Indian
polity were fuelled by highlighting differences between the
upper-caste Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, tribals, and some other
caste-based and communal categories that were purely imaginary. Paradoxically, however, this resulted in the creation of
a sort of bond between Indians at the local, provincial, and
national levels, leading to a sense of national identity.
This national identity was not shaped by ideology. The fracas at Surat (the Congress Session in Surat in December 1907
had ended in a violent clash and formal split between the
Moderates and the Extremists over the presidential election
of the moderate leader, Rash Bihari Ghosh) was merely the
result of a thrust for dominance within the Congress Party,
and not a consequence of an ideological clash between the
Extremists and the Moderates within the Party. The great
revolutionary 'movements' initiated by Gandhi frequently
eclipsed the many smaller internal and local dissensions with-
in the Congress. But what ideology did the Swarajists follow
while demanding the right to enter the Legislative Assembly?
Their argument was that while imperialism had built a system that interlocked its rule in locality, province, and state,
nationalism had emerged as a matching structure in politics,
the implication being that nationalism was a mere corollary of
imperialism, with no distinctive ideology of its own!
Nationalist historiography has also been challenged by the
Subaltern School. Peter Marshall's Bengal: The British Bridgehead
acknowledges the fact that the Cambridge School theory of local
'sub-contractors' and their cooperative role, is not uniformly applicable to all regions and across all phases of the national movement. The many insurgencies that do not fit these paradigms
have been investigated by Ranajit Guha, the chief spokesman
of the Subaltern School, in his Elementary Aspects of Peasant
Insurgency in Colonial India, and by his associates in several
volumes of Subaltern Studies. By questioning the theory of the
hegemony of the elite, they have (following Gramsci's hypothesis
of 'multiple elements of conscious leadership but no one of them
... predominant') highlighted the desire for autonomy as a goal of
these movements. Guha states in the preface to the third volume
of Subaltern Studies: 'We are opposed as much of [sic] the prevailing practice in historiography and the social sciences for its failure
to acknowledge the Subaltern as the maker of his own destiny.
There is no way of reinforcing the subaltern claim but by subverting the elitist paradigm.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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