Category Archives: India

Bipan Chandra: The Historian of Modern India

Bipan Chandra

Bipan Chandra (27 May 1928 – 30 August 2014)

It is natural for Bipan Chandra who died last week on August 30, to be best remembered as the author the NCERT text book “Modern India”, but his work as a historian went far beyond that.

His PhD thesis, later published as “The Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India: Economic Policies of Indian National Leadership, 1880-1905”, as well as “The Rise of Communalism in Modern India” and “India’s Struggle for Independence” provided new vistas for research and understanding of modern Indian history.

The latter two works were particularly significant and hotly debated. “The Rise of Communalism in Modern India” was the first work dedicated to the study of communalism, and “India’ Struggle for Independence” used Antonio Gramsci’s concept of passive revolution and counter hegemony to understand India’s struggle for Independence. Continue reading

Kanshiram- Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan: A Review

9780670085095Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan Published by Penguin India 2014

Dalit politics in the late 20th century India owes its rise to the vision and work one man–Kanshiram.

The bedrock for this movement was laid in the mid-20th century by its tallest leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Despite his brilliance and lifelong commitment to the cause of the dalits, Dr Ambedkar had been largely forgotten in the national consciousness till the rise of the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) and then the Bahujan Samaj Party- both creations of one man, Kanshiram.

Born in a Ramdasia Sikh family in Punjab, Kanshiram was named after a local baba who apparently predicted that he would grow up to be a big leader. He grew up more or less unaffected by the stigma that his caste was subjected to in most of the country.

Kanshiram’s eyes opened to the reality of caste oppression when he was employed with a government research laboratory in Pune. Spurred by the extant Dalit movement, primarily led by the Mahars in Maharashtra, he went on to dedicate his life to the cause that he took upon himself. He decided not to marry or have any relations with his family. His encounters with his family back in Punjab were sporadic, and interspersed over many years. For a long time, his parents and siblings did not know his whereabouts.

There is limited first-hand information about Kanshiram–he left behind no autobiography or work except a very short pamphlet titled “The Chamcha Age.” Badri Narayan has collected the facts of Kanshiram’s life from accounts of some of his associates and later, with the BSP’s emergence as a major political force in the late 1980s, from the media. Continue reading

A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links

Arundhati Roy reports from her rendezvous with the Maoists:

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. (That’s a truism of course. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered.

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When it was Bliss to be a Communist

Between 1936 and 1947, the Communist Party of India grew from a base of few hundred cadre to 80,000. During one of the most critical phases of its history, when it supported the British war effort in 1942, the Party actually expanded and brought into its fold people who later became major cultural figures. When the Royal Indian Mutiny took place in 1946, the flags of three political groups were flown on the mutinous ships- that of the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League and the CPI. The then leader of the CPI was also the first person to address Gandhi as the ‘father of the nation’. Given the aura that the party built up at that time, its leader at that time is relatively little known. If his comrades in arms in the party who took over immediately after him had their way, his name would have been completely written off. As it were, they almost succeeded.

There has been little or no remembrance on the part of the CPI and CPM for PC Joshi.

After all, the intellectual decline and current mediocrity of the CPM was achieved at the cost of dismantling the heritage of Joshi, particularly by Pramod Dasgupta.
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Links

Robert Fisk created quite a flutter last week with his article on the decline and possible demise of the dollar. Probably the rumours are untrue, but then there isn’t a smoke without a fire. Martin Wolf critiques Fisk’s views in FT (needs free registration).

The award of the Nobel for literature to Herta Muller confirms that East and Central Europe, along with Latin America, is the happening place for contemporary literature. An extract from one of her novels.

Why did Rama fight the war with Ravana? In his own words, it wasn’t for Sita. Read a superb piece by a card- carrying feminist and translator of the Valmiki Ramayana.

The award to Olstrom is path breaking both because she is the first woman to receive the Nobel for economics as well as because, strictly speaking, she isn’t an economist. A good introduction to her work on the collective use of common resources.

One may love or hate her, but the fact is that Arundhati Roy continues to give expression to the angst of our age.

This is the first part of an inspiring Hungarian travelogue by a group of Dalit students.

You can also follow these occasional links real time via twitter.

Caste, Racism and the UN Resolution

Hats off to the Maoists in Nepal for taking the caste question to the UN level. This is in sharp contrast to the stance taken by the Indian government all through. During the World Conference Against Racism in Durban (2001) India had opposed equating the caste system with racism and the then Attorney General Soli Sorabjee had gone on record stating that:

“There were misconceived attempts by some NGOs to equate racism with caste-based discrimination which is based on birth and occupation and has nothing to do with the race of a person.”

Earlier this year in April the Indian government had succeeded in having caste discrimination ignored in the resolution during the World Conference on Racism held in Geneva. Continue reading

IT: The Future is Here, Almost

This article was written 14 years ago when internet services officially started in India. I had expressed a number of fears in this some of which have been happily proved incorrect. However, I find it interesting that there are almost no fundamentally new technological breakthroughs that have come around since the article was written. Some of the concerns raised in the article still hold, particularly its conclusion.

Trivia: The original article was typed on a PC- XT machine using Word Star 7.

I had used email for just over a  month then using a corporate account and the browser I was then using were Mosaic and Gopher !

Anyone remember using these ??

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Information Revolution
The Future is Here, Almost
by Bhupinder Singh
(Op Ed, The Tribune, Chandigarh, 19 August 1995)

India formally joined Internet, the real information superhighway- on Wednesday. With a PC and a modem, Indians now have the wide, wild, world of information at their button tips. This article by a computer engineer talks about new vistas and, hidden traps.

While we were not looking, the future arrived.

It did not arrive the way popular science fiction had predicted- with personal trips to Mars on weekends, et al. Instead, it arrived as a social, cultural, informational and technological revolution more world- changing than the futurists could have dreamed. This change is so headlong and profound that it is more than difficult to comes to terms with or even grasp it, let alone understand it.

Within the lifetime of people who have barely got beyond middle age, human society and the relations of people within them have gone through a sort of economic and social earthquake. To a large extent, technological change since the Industrial Revolution, has not much been derived from it as it has driven this cataclysmic change.
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