India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra

One more book that has been left unfinished this year. I did start it with the best of intentions, especially since I had enjoyed another book by the same author, but had to abandon it within a few chapters.

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Why didn’t it work ?

1. Certain issues that I felt should have been discussed in depth and should have received at least a full chapter to their credit get only one paragraph. That was a huge let down for me. We can get one paragraph summaries like that from Wikipedia but that is not what we want, is it ? I expected that issues such as Princely States, creation of new States, secessionist movements, tribal movements would be subject to the kind of analysis that was seen in India’s struggle for Independence but instead we get “A person X did this in year 1234 and then this happened.” ūüėź

2. In an earlier post about¬†India’s struggle for Independence¬†by the same author, I had written how the writing was objective and free from¬†bias. I wish I could say the same about this one too. Most of the time, the debate on social media regarding representation of history takes a sharp turn towards ideology and from then on the discourse is more about proving that the other person is wrong. When I say this book is biased, I mean it from a purely neutral view. I don’t want to go in depth about the bias and its nature but let me put it this way – when the first 13 chapters are dedicated to just one person, you know something is amiss.

Since I didn’t read it fully, I can’t give a final verdict but based on what I did read, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Have you read the book fully ? What do you think ?

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India’s Struggle For Independence by Bipan Chandra

Co-authors: Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan, K.M. Panikkar

This is a book I would recommend to anyone who wants to understand the Indian Freedom movement in depth. At over 600 pages with tons of detail, it may seem heavy but is well worth the read.

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The style of the book is such that it isn’t strictly chronological. Rather, some chapters trace the entire history and evolution of a particular issue. For instance, the chapter on freedom of the press starts analysis from mid-1800s to the time of independence. Similarly for labour rights, social reforms, etc. This is insightful and way better than just studying what happened in which year without comprehending the reasons (i.e. the school textbooks method). I ended up discovering a lot of new things that aren’t usually given the importance that is due.

Is the writing biased ? I wouldn’t say so. To me, biased writing would be if the author ignored the opposing views on the issue and presented only the good. That hasn’t been done here. For an issue or a decision, both sides have been presented first and then the author has given his reasons for defending one side. The way I look at it, since both sides have been presented, you can always choose to agree or disagree with the author’s defense.

Apart from a few minor typos, the only problem I would point out is that there is not a single photograph. None ! One of the most fascinating things about reading history is that the photographs have a much bigger impact than anything else. I still love going through old pictures of my city because that gives a perspective that words simply cannot. There are several iconic photos of the freedom movement that everyone is familiar with but because all the authors are historians who have spent their lives on this, surely they would have some unique photos to offer ?

Because it is so well-researched, the number of quotes and anecdotes you get are amazing. Each and every one of them raises the respect you have for the leaders. I have listed a few of my favourites below

On the Vernacular Press Act (1878) which targeted the vernacular newspapers for censorship 

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On Bhagat Singh 

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Gopal Krishna Gokhale on the role of the moderates 

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 Have you read this book ? Planning to read it ? Do you agree about the photos part ?