Easier access to archives and the opening of numerous collections of private papers have led to a flood of monographs on the history of late nineteenth and early twentieth century India. The emphasis of these has been largely on specific problems, movements or regions and there has been relatively little attempt to synthesize the new data or write textbooks incorporating the new research elements into history. Modern India:1947 attempts such a synthesis, keeping the anti-imperialist struggle as its central focus while trying to place it within the totality of economic, socio-cultural and political developments of late colonial India.
The historiography of modern India and its freedom struggle has often tended to have an elitist bias, concentrating on the activities, ideals or factional manoeuvres of leading groups at various levels. The present work tries to explore, in the light of the author’s own research, some of the rich possibilities of a history from below’. The shift in focus towards tribals, Peasants and workers is shown to involve important charges in our whole understanding of modern Indian history.
Dr. Sumit Sarkar has recently retired as Professor of History from Delhi University, after a long and illustrious career in academics. After his graduation from Presidency College, he completed his Ph.D. from a Culcutta University and went on to be a Visiting Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. He has also previously taught at Calcutta University and the University of Burdwan.
His earlier publications include The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, 1903-1908, (1973) Writing Social History (1998), Beyond Nationalist Frames: Post-Modernism, Hindu Fundamentalism, History (2002), and Toward Freedom: Documents on the Movement for Independence in India, 1946(2007). He has also provided critical insights into the area of Subaltern Studies through numerous essays and articles.
Modern India: 1885-1947 was planned some years back as part of a collective attempt to write the history of India in six volumes. Its publication now as an independent work requires a brief justification of its starting point. While 1885 was chosen mainly for convenience, it can be argued that what is recognizably ‘modern’ India began not with the Mughal break-up or with Plassey, but during the latter half of the nineteenth century. It was during these decades that colonial political and economic domination attained its finished apparently stale form, while its counterpoints had also started developing alike at the level of autonomous popular movements and of ‘middle class’ or intelligentsia based all-India nationalism. The period with which I dial relates to the subsequent unfolding of these contradictions down to the achievement of independence.
The present work has a twofold aim. It attempts a synthesis of the massive data unearthed in recent years by the flood of monographs on specific problems in political, social and economic history. At the same time, it explores, in the light of my own research interests, the possibilities of a ‘history from below’ as distinct from the usual tendency in the historiography of Indian nationalism to concentrate on the activities, ideals, or factional maneuvers of leaders.
This book would have been inconceivable without the massive research output in modern Indian history during recent years. The format did not permit the usual acknowledgements through footnotes except in the case of direct quotations, but I have tried to honour my debts by lists of Further Readings which appear at the end of the book, arranged chapterwise.
I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to the students of my modern India history classes, on whom I have been testing many of the ideas, set out here, for years. This questions and criticisms have been indispensable in sorting out my formulations.
I am grateful to Barun De, Asok Sen, Amiya Bagchi and Gyan Pandey, for going through the manuscript in whole or in part and offering extremely helpful comments and criticism. I remember with gratitude and pleasure a nightlong discussion with Ranjit Guha in Brighton in1977 which modified many of my ideas at a time when I had just started collecting material for this book. The Subaltern Studies series which he was editing unfortunately reached me only after manuscript went to press.
My father followed the writing of this book with unfailing interest, and it must always remain a matter of deep sorrow to me that I could not show him the finished work. Tanika as always was the source of undiminished criticism and sustenance. Aditya provided a delightful distraction.
I would like to thank my publishers, for prodding a lazy author into completing his manuscript and for indispensable typing and editorial assistance.
The responsibility for errors remains mine alone.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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