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Nationalist Movement in India (A Reader)

Nationalist Movement in India (A Reader)
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Item Code: NAF876
Author: Sekhar Bandyopadhyay
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9780195698817
Pages: 434
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 420 gms

About the Book


This reader provides a comprehensive discussion of the pluralist nature of the Indian nation and its struggle for independence. It highlights the different understandings of nationalism in various social groups, classes, and regions. The introduction provides a broad historical outline of the nationalist movement in the post-1857 period and analyses its various complexities and internal contradictions.

This book will be indispensable for students and teachers of modem Indian history at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It will also interest researchers, students of political science, and the general reader keen to learn about the Indian nationalist movement, arguably the largest mass movement in the history of the modern world.


About the Author


Sekhar Bandyopadhyay is Professor of Asian History, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.




This book in various forms has been in my mind for a long time—almost since I started teaching history of Indian nationalist movement more than three decades ago. Over these years this field has been enriched by exciting new research, using new methodological tools and exploring new archives, and stoking new debates on theory and ideology of nationalism. In my view what has become clear by now is that Indian nationalism had many faces, as different social groups, classes, and regions responded differently to foreign rule and had different understanding of nationalism. The central aim of this book is to present and highlight this pluralist nature of the Indian nation and its struggle for independence. The essays in this book-some of them classics, others more recent-have been selected to familiarize the readers with these debates, which have been further discussed in details in the introduction. The introduction will also provide a broad historical outline of the nationalist movement in the post-1857 period, highlighting its various complexities and internal contradictions, and contextualizing the essays included in the volume. At the end of it there is a select bibliography to help readers intending to know more about this complex story of the nationalist movement in India.

I have incurred many debts while planning and producing this book.

My first and foremost debt is to my students of the last thirty years at the University of Calcutta and Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, who have enriched my understanding of Indian nationalism by constantly challenging me to think in different and newer ways. I am also grateful to the staff of the library of the Victoria University of Wellington for their ungrudging help, and to the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of my university for supporting my academic ventures with generous research leave and funding. I am also grateful to Professor Robin Jeffrey and the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University for offering me a Visiting Fellowship and thus giving me precious time to organize this book and write the introduction, using the rich South Asia collection of the ANU library. An earlier draft of the first section of the Introduction was presented as my professorial inaugural lecture at Victoria University of Wellington and as a paper at the Humanities Division of the Curtin University of Technology in Perth. I wish to thank all those who made valuable comments.

I am also immensely grateful to all the contributors and their publishers for giving me permission to reprint excerpts from their articles or book chapters. A separate note is added to acknowledge them separately. I would certainly not be able to finish this book on time without the assistance of my former student Craig Watterson-a very warm thank you for him. Finally, I remain immensely grateful to Oxford University Press for encouraging me to compile this collection and then helping me with the publication process.

My family has supported my work in more ways than I can acknowledge here and I need not thank them publicly. I would like to dedicate this book to the memory of my father. He was not just an inspirational figure for me, but with him I incessantly debated the nature of Indian nationalist movement, in which he was a minor participant making a major personal sacrifice. As usual, all the errors are mine.




In this age of globalization, ironically, but not unexpectedly, national- ism has once again become a major political force all over the world. And these recent debates over nation and national identity reveal the inner contradictions of present-day nation-states. 'The world is divided into territorial states', writes Anthony D. Smith. It is 'similarly divided into nations, that is, named populations possessing a historic similarity, shared myths and historical memories, a mass, public culture, a single economy and common rights and duties for all members, which are legitimized by the principles of nationalism'. Smith also observes that 'states, nations and nationalisms do not often coincide. it is the aim of all nationalists to create the conditions for a greater congruence between state, nation and nationalism. In this quest they have been only partly successful; but this serves merely to spur nationalists to greater efforts'. 1 It is perhaps fair to argue that this task is even more difficult in postcolonial nations where ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversities are too firmly entrenched in history, and the search for 'congruence' can be counter-productive if pushed too hard, and therefore, we should look for new ways to conceptualize nation, disentangled from the unitary structures of nation-states.

In recent years, as consumer goods and labour travel more freely across the national boundaries, threaten to homogenize our consumption cultures, and complicate ethnic structures of national communities, there is a renewed focus on reinventing the' congruence' between the nation, nation-state, and national identity. In the countries of the global south this debate has been sparked by the flooding of goods and cultural Artefacts from the north and in the north it is the influx of labour from the developing countries that has unsettled the established cultural boundaries of nations. Cultural and political anxieties created by such globalizing trends foreground another important fact that nationalism itself was homogenized as a global phenomenon during a previous era of globalization, that is, the era of European imperialism. And not just that, the way the histories of the postcolonial nations have been written bears the continuing evidence of Western intellectual hegemony that puts the modern nation-state at the centre of any historical discussion of nationalism. Instead of that, it can be reasonably argued that the history of the people in these postcolonial societies can be better understood if we give up the futile search for artificial 'congruence between state, nation, and nationalism', and discursively disengage the history of nation from the history of the state. Indian history is a major field where a complex historiography of nationalism has flourished, indicating that different readings of the history of India can suggest a number of alternative ways of conceptualizing nation. However, these alternative possibilities were lost in the modernist project of the western-educated elites of colonial India who were more attracted to the nation-state model of the West. We can discuss here a few of those ideas.

In terms of general theory of nationalism, there is a greater consensus among historians now that nation is a collective mental construct, it is not something naturally given. Benedict Anderson has given us a powerful definition of nation by calling it an 'imagined political community' living in a 'homogenous empty time', and constructed through the influence of print capitalism, that is newspapers and novels, and by such other politico-cultural apparatus of modernity as census, maps, and museums.' Eric Hobsbawm has called nationalism an 'invented tradition'." What Anderson, Hobsbawm, and others have done is to Unmistakably entangle the history of nationalism with that of modernity.

ationalisrn is now widely recognized as a 'modern' phenomenon, inspired by Enlightenment and Romanticism, incubated in an economic environment enriched by industrial capitalism and as the product of particular historical processes in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which led to the transformation of the absolutist dynastic empires into democratic nation-states. Nations and nationalism in Europe thus came to be integrally associated with the notions of self- determination, states, and sovereignty. This post-Enlightened European modernity travelled to Asia and Africa through the pathways of empires. But the boundary lines of these new geo-political constructs had very little 'congruence' with the pre-existing lines of ethnic, racial, or religious communities in these continents. It was in this state of historical confusion that the process of nation building started here. The liberal expectation of men like John Stuart Mill was that the colonized people of the empire would get their self-government when they had made sufficient progress in civilization. 4 But neither the Indians waited that long, nor the demission of empires had ever been voluntary, and Afro-Asian nationalisms were born essentially through anti-colonial resistance movements.

But there were problems in imagining nations in these regions, as their own histories differed from those of the European empires. First of all, these empires contained myriad groups of people. In the British Indian Empire, for example, there were numerous languages and castes and two major religious groups, the Hindus and the Muslims, besides a host of other minor religions. Other colonies like British Burma or Malaya, Dutch East Indies or French Indochina had equally diverse populations. 5 If we look at the pre-colonial history of state formation in these regions, what we find is that unlike Europe, sovereignty was not conceptualized as centralized absolute power; it was always shared with the periphery. In the Mughal Empire, as the recent historiography shows, the Emperor negotiated and shared his power with the regional polities." Sugata Bose has recently argued that pre-colonial Indian and the Indian Ocean polities 'had looser, cascading political structures and espoused layered and shared sovereignty with lower level leaders. The formalities of precolonial empire, unlike those of the colonial type, envisioned incorporation, not subordination, of lesser sovereigns, and this distinction was much more than a matter of rituals or political semantics'. In such a political system, it was difficult to imagine firm territorial boundaries of states drawn across the maps. 'A generalised cartographic anxiety over territorial possession', Bose further argues, was new to the area and was spread only through colonialism? There were of course maps in pre-colonial Asia, but the political boundaries were fuzzy and porous, and ever changing. Irfan Habib, the modern cartographer of Mughal India, admits that the administrative and political boundaries of the Mughal Empire were altered so frequently that taking the most recent one gives 'a false picture of exactitude '.8 As Joseph Schwartzberg has speculated, until the exposure to European cartography in the seventeenth century, fixed boundary lines demarcating named territories for political domination was unknown in South Asia.? And therefore, it was hard for peoples to think of themselves as territorially-anchored populations which could become core groups for imagining modern nations.

As for India, many imperial observers like Valentine Chirol believed that India was a 'mere geographical expression'-and one might add, that too was the creation of the British Empire. It was, as Chirol wrote in 1910:

inhabited by a great variety of nations. there are far more absolutely distinct languages spoken in India than in Europe; that there are far more profound racial differences between the Maharatta and the Bengalee than between the German and the Portuguese. and that caste has driven into Indian society lines of far deeper cleavage than any class distinctions that have survived in Europe. 10

Some of the early Indian nationalists, like Surendranath Banerjea, accepted that and described India as 'a nation in making' (sic)." This 'making' process, as Benedict Anderson would suggest, was facilitated by the colonial regime, which brought to the colony Western education and print capitalism and created an intelligentsia who had been crucial to the process of imagining a nation. They were helped by several institutions of the colonial state: colonial cartographers drew their territorial boundaries; the census operations counted them, transforming the 'fuzzy communities' into 'enumerated communities";" and the colonial museums reinvented their antiquities. The colonial intelligentsia chose their models, Anderson claimed, from the 'official nationalisms' of European or American histories, which 'were copied, adopted and improved upon'. 13 Even before Benedict Anderson formulated his theory of western influences behind Asian nationalisms in his 1983 book, many historians of Indian nationalism had been writing in this same vein." It is this claim which has been contested in recent historiography.

Partha Chatterjee in his 1993 book observed with sarcasm that if the West crafted our colonial subjection, imagined our anti-colonial resistance, and designed our postcolonial misery, then what was left for us to do? 'Even our imaginations must remain forever colonized', he says." So the question is, in what ways Indian nationalism could claim its difference from the western model? We can address that question by raising several related queries regarding how this nation was imagined. The most important problematic of Indian nationalism was that the nation here did not evidently inhabit the 'homogenous empty time', but rather the 'heterogenous time of modernity', to use Partha Chatterjee's expression. Here the working classes did not internalize the ethos of capitalism and the peasants, even when they participated in nationalist events, had very different understandings of those events derived from their dissimilar life experiences. 'Politics here does not mean the same thing to all people' .16 1'1 a situation like this where the vast majority of the population were so unevenly touched by modernity, did education and print capitalism play the same role in nation building as envisaged by Anderson or before him by Ernest Gellner?" If not, then what was this process and how did it differ from Anderson's modernist rational process of imagination? Second, how did this Indian concept of nation relate to territory and the inherent pluralism of the population contained therein?

To begin with our first question, Chatterjee has sought to answer it by dividing the nation's space into an inner spiritual space where the colonized nation seeks its sovereignty in spite of subjection in the outer public space where it surrenders to Western modular influences. IS AB another postcolonial historian Dipesh Chakrabarty argues, nation is thus spiritually experienced in this inner sphere, rather than mentally or rationally imagined. 19 According to these historians, it was through such modes of spiritual imagination that Indian nationalism could permeate across various levels of popular consciousness. This can be illustrated by looking at the nationalist iconography of Bbarat Mata or Mother India. Perhaps the first time the idea of Bharat Mata appeared in the public space was through the performance of a play at the Hindu mela on 19 February 1873, by a group involvingJyotirindranath and Satyendranath Tagore, Kiran Chandra Banerjee, and Sisir Kumar Ghosh." Then in 1882 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in his Bengali novel Anandamatb more directly introduced the powerful imagery of the mother goddess into the discourse of nationalism. He painted with emotive words three images of Mother for her disciples-a-the Mother as she was, Mother as she is, and Mother as she will be and wrote a song 'Hail Mother' (Bande mataram) that eventually became the anthem of Indian nationalism. In the Hindu mythology the Mother goddess is imagined in two forms- Kaliand Durga-both representing primal power. Mother is responsible for procreation as well as protection of the world from all evils. The nationalists in the first decade of the twentieth century extensively used this imagery of mother goddess in both these two forms for appealing to the masses. But then in 1905 Abanindranath Tagore, the illustrious nephew of Rabindianath Tagore, drew the famous water colour image entitled 'Bharat Mata', thus introducing a new form of mother goddess now expressly representing the motherland." In the subsequent years this image of Bharat Mata was represented in multiple forms, but most importantly, she was inserted into a map of India, thus explicitly connecting her to the territory and thus transforming, as Surnathi Ramaswamy has argued, the disenchanted cartographic space of India, delineated by colonial rule, into a sacred geo-body of the nation, or motherland, for which her devotees were now expected to give their lives." In the subsequent years these images were reproduced in millions in various art forms, and almost in every regional language songs were written in her praise."

Such imageries are not absolutely rare in the history of nationalism. 24 In India too a significant amount of literature has been produced on this nationalist icon; here we may go into only a selected few. Tanika Sarkar has called Bharat Mata a 'cultural artefact' of nationalism, which also reflected the patriarchal anxieties of a male-dominated colonial society." Indeed, in Tagore's representation mother appears to be more vulnerable-she is no longer the protector but requires protection by her patriotic sons. Sugata Bose on the other hand has argued that Bharat Mata was not an artefact or a rational construct, rather it naturally emanated from a centuries-old Hindu tradition of regarding earth or Pritbui as mother. This religio-mythological concept of mother-nature equation was naturally extended to cover motherland." For Dipesh Chakrabarty, this spiritual aesthetic of visualizing nation as a nurturing mother--or this 'seeing beyond the real' is different from the rational or 'mentalist' process of imagination that Anderson speaks of. This iconic representation of nation bridged the gulf between the literate elites and illiterate masses in a way that no print capitalism could ever achieve." Because, as Christopher Pinney has argued, this iconography of Bharat Mata provided 'a space where national feeling can make itself "felt"

Yet, other historians like Sumathi Ramaswamy consider Bharat Mata and similar other nationalist imageries as 'products of a modem imagination', which had nothing in common with the Puranic Hindu mythological concepts of Kali, Durga, or Prithvi. In the subsequent representations of Bharat Mata, the way she was dressed up and placed on the map of India, amounted to what Ramaswamy calls 'territorialization of the goddess' or 'somaticization of the motherland'. In it she sees the cunning of modernity' as this transforms the nation into a kin group by making all its citizens sons of the same mother." It is a fact that the way Bharat Mata was represented in the later nationalist iconography of the 1940s it is difficult to miss the obvious modernist elements like the flag and" the map. But then it will be simplistic to describe this symbolic representation of a spiritual nation as purely modem; more appropriately we should recognize its hybrid nature, because the evidence of cultural alterity in this nationalist imagination is too obvious to miss. There were of course maps, but some of the maps did not even indicate any boundary

lines, thus leaving us not with the representation of a territorial nation- state that the British left for us, but with images of a cultural space-the more traditional idea of 'a-samudra-bimacbal-Bbarat Barsba' (Bharat or India that stretched from the Himalayas to the ocean)-that had been the cradle for an Indian civilization that flourished over centuries.

Such evidence of hybridity could be seen in the use of other more overtly modem symbols of nationhood as well, namely, the 'flag', which was evolving in nationalist imaginary since 1905, acquiring a concrete shape through Gandhi's intervention in 1920, when he inserted the charkha (spinning wheel) into the middle of the tricolour flag, in which the saffron and green represented the Hindus and the Muslims respectively, the white standing for all other communities. This was the flag which the Congress adopted in 1931 as the 'national flag', the most modem symbol of national sovereignty, challenging the legitimacy of the Union Jack with the Star of India. However, as Arundhati Virrnani has argued, what we also find in this nationalist imaginary is the transformation of 'an ancient implement, characteristic of an Indian culture and economy destroyed by colonial domination, into a powerful symbol of colonial resistance' .

One could argue that it was in this innovative use of culture and civilization as inclusive tropes for nation that Indian nationalism could claim its difference from the Western territorial concept of nation. This broad universalist concept was spelled out more clearly in the early twentieth-century writings of Rabindranath Tagore. In a poem in Geetanjali, he described India as a civilization-a meeting ground for various kinds of humanity-rather than simply a country or a territorial unit. In another seminal essay called 'History of India', written in 1902, he argued that India had been subjected to a series of foreign invasions by Greeks, Scythians, Parthians, Shakas, Hunas, Arabs, Persians, Afghans, and Mongols. But many of the foreign invaders eventually embraced this land and in course of time were themselves 'Indianized' and left their mark on Indian art and culture, further enriching its immense diversity. It was in this assimilative power of Indian civilization that India could claim her difference from Europe, because here the idea of 'India' developed more as an inclusive civilizational community, rather than as a political-territorial state. Indeed, the whole ofIndia was never politically unified until the late seventeenth century, as the various regional groups continued to maintain their political autonomy and local patriotism, and continuously fought with each other. Tagore dismisses that 'political' history of territorial warfare as a dark history of nightmares. He privileges instead the other more inclusive history of social assimilation which internalized even the invading outsiders. It was in this assimilative spirit, Tagore argued, that the true essence of Indianness, her national identity was to be found. This essence could not be rationally defined or described, but like life in a body, it needed to be felt or experienced."

Mahatma Gandhi was also developing the idea of a civilizational nation when he was working for the rights of the Indians in South Africa. In Hind Swaraj(1909) in response to the question 'Who is the nation?', Gandhi wrote: 'It is only those Indians who conscientiously believe that Indian civilisation is the best. ' This civilization flourished in a geographical space that was linguistically differentiated. But we learned each other's language, he argued, and visited each other's regions as pilgrims. And this civilization was not exclusive, as he went further: 'The introduction of foreigners does not necessarily destroy the nation, they merge in it. A country is one nation only when such a condition obtains in it. '

One of the stalwart theorists of nationalism, Elie Kedurie has argued that nationalism is a combination of patriotism or love for the country and xenophobia or dislike for outsiders." In other words, it is a process which is inclusive and exclusive at [he same time. In this sense Tagore's and Gandhi's concept of nation was certainly different, because here the core ofthe nation was a civilization, not any 'sacred national ethnos', to borrow an expression from Arjun Appadurai." Ashis Nandy has therefore described them as 'counter-modernist critic(s)' of the imperial West, who offered an alternative model of nationalism and nationhood, which could unite India at a social rather than political level by creatively using this difference." We should remember, however, that neither Tagore nor Gandhi rejected modernity as a package, but made a case for an alternative modernity, which would be modem but not Western. Nor did they reject the idea of nation, but suggested ways to conceptualize it outside the political exclusivity of territorial states. Nandy is however right when he asserts that the educated Indian middle classes and their party, the Indian ational Congress, did not accept Tagore and Gandhi's universalist concept of nationhood, and adopted instead the narrower western political model of nation-state. However, this civilizational concept of nation also raises two uncomfortable questions, one about the antiquity of the putative nation, and the other about the limits of the assimilative power of this civilization.














Sekhar Bandyopadhyay







Whose Imagined Community?



Economic Nationalism



Rewriting Histories of Nationalism The Politics of 'Moderate Nationalism' in India, 1870-1905



Trends in Bengal's Swadeshi Movement









The Mahatma and Modern India



Waiting for the Mahatma





The Rowlatt Satyagraha



Masses in Politics Non-co-operation Movement in Bengal



Rebellious Hillmen The Gudem-Rampa Risings 1839-1924



The Structure of Congress Politics in Coastal Andhra, 1925-37



The Indian Nation in 1942





'The Muslim Breakaway'



Exploding Communalism The Politics of Muslim Identity in South Asia





'Denationalising' the Past 'Nation' in E.V. Ramasamy's Political Discourse



Congress and the Untouchables, 1917-50





Gandhi and Women's Role in the Struggle for Swaraj



Politics and Women in Bengal The Conditions and Meaning of Participation





Congress and the Industrialists (1885-1947)



Attitude of the Indian National Congress Towards the Working Class Struggle in India, 1918-47





Popular Movements and National Leadership, 1945-47



Sailors and the Crowd Popular Protest in Karachi, 1946


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