Indian National Congress and the Struggle for Freedom
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Indian National Congress and the Struggle for Freedom

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Item Code: NAQ316
Author: Amales Tripathi
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9780198090557
Pages: 647
Other Details 8.80 X 5.50 inch
Weight 700 gm
About the Book

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.

About the Author

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 wandering minstrel.


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 Party.

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 conclusions:

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.

2. 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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