Book Review: India’s Struggle for Independence
Primary Author: Bipan Chandra
Contributions from: Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan, K.N. Panikkar
Originally Published: 1988
Book Blurb: India’s Struggle for Independence begins with the abortive revolt against the British in 1857 and culminates in India’s Independence in 1947.
Introduction: This book is the first of a two-part book series, which was partly a result of a research project on the Indian National Movement supervised by the renowned historian Bipan Chandra and funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research. This work has tapped into various archives, official documents, private letters, newspapers and oral interviews of over 1500 freedom fighters.
Recommended for: It has been crucial to a history student’s syllabus and is often recommended to civil services aspirants and I suggest it should be a part of every history enthusiast’s reading list.
The book covers almost every aspect of the movement, from the Northwest frontier to the southern tip of India. There have also been accusations that Bipan Chandra is biased towards The Indian National Congress. However, he explains in detail their historical method and analysis. The introduction provides the reader with a brief explanation of various historiographical approaches such as the Marxist, Imperialist, Nationalist, and Subaltern on the concerned events of the Independence Movement and then explains the book’s approach.
It discusses how, “The conservative colonial administrators and the imperialist school of historians, popularly known as the Cambridge School, deny the existence of colonialism as an economic, political, social and cultural structure in India. Colonialism is seen by them primarily as foreign rule. They either do not see or vehemently deny that the economic, social, cultural and political development of India required the overthrow of colonialism.”
Moving past, it quickly forms the narrative by utilising the various existing debates to create a middle ground which lies within the broader Marxist tradition and seeks to identify issues that create a contradiction of interests in colonial India. It then goes on to explain how the Indian national leaders recognized and navigated these contradictions to develop an academic analysis of colonialism.
“In fact, for the first time in the 19th century, they developed an economic critique of colonialism, revealing its complex structure. Taking the social experience of the Indian people as colonized subjects and recognizing the common interests of the Indian people vis- a-vis colonialism, the national leaders gradually evolved a clear-cut anti-colonial ideology on which they based the national movement. This anti-colonial ideology and critique of colonialism were disseminated during the mass phase of the movement. The national movement also played a pivotal role in the historical process through which the Indian people got formed into a nation or a people.”
It discusses key events leading up to India’s Independence comprehensively but also manages to provide the reader with a historiographical chronology. Even though it is a relatively lengthy read, it is perfect for readers who do not have previous knowledge of that period because of the book’s simple language.
If you are curious to know more about modern Indian history, this book could be your introductory read before you jump into more niche topics. Happy Reading!