Book Review: 1947-1957, INDIA By Chandrachur Ghose- Interrogating The Morality Of The Idea Of India.

Nikhil Sanjay-Rekha Adsule

12 Sep 2023 5:18 AM GMT

  • Book Review: 1947-1957, INDIA By Chandrachur Ghose- Interrogating The Morality Of The Idea Of India.

    A critical look at the mayhem of the contemporary events surrounding us points to the questions about their backward linkages, their ought to be consequences, till the questions regarding origin of their discourse. In the contemporary political scenario with Union parliamentary elections just around the corner, multiplicity of passions and pressing issues are coming to light where the...

    A critical look at the mayhem of the contemporary events surrounding us points to the questions about their backward linkages, their ought to be consequences, till the questions regarding origin of their discourse. In the contemporary political scenario with Union parliamentary elections just around the corner, multiplicity of passions and pressing issues are coming to light where the idea of 'India' is being questioned. The promise of Social and Economic democracy was thought to be the only arenas that would be requiring critical attention once an apt political democratic arrangement is agreed upon. Thus, India i.e Bharat becomes a State within the Modern conceptual paradigm; defined territory, population, defense and sovereignty. But what was missed is if the audacity of the Nation making project was not understood properly, the politics could smell and appear like a heap of Dung. The tangible reality of Socio-Economic democracy would be realized only in imagination.

    In such a chaotic background, very few works have attempted to foreground an intellectual yet political biography of India. Chandrachur Ghose's work, 1947-1957, INDIA is one of the brilliant attempts in such a direction. The text is terse as it begins without any ado albeit non-traditionally without any introductions. It tries to dive into rational etymological events that lead not just to the becoming of India but also to the dialectics of the contemporary events. The focus of this text is from 1947 to 1957, yet when required it doesn't hesitate to go much deeper without any dogmatic adherence to the form. The book is divided into eight tight chapters that touch upon all the aspects of State. Infact after the end of this intellectual tome, it naturally feels as to how those elements are inherent in India's journey of becoming a Nation; an communitarian imagined feeling with the ideal of fraternity (sisterhood). All the chapters follow each other as they are natural progression of the previous ones but at times one certainly feels that to have basic understanding of the colonial political framework of pre-independent India is a prerequisite for a layperson.

    Chapter 1 starts with Transfer of Power, it provides an understanding of the events till the transfer of power to the Indians. It may feel that its just a summary of what we already know i.e the various commissions, missions that led to the enactment of The Independence of India act, 1947 but what makes this chapter separate from earlier works of other authors is the meticulous selection of sources to explain the trajectory rather than banal framework. This makes it intellectual as well as informative for laypersons at the sametime. The adherence to the different referential frameworks spark curiosity as to what lies ahead in the succeeding chapters which is carried forward in the second chapter i.e Framing the Constitution. In this chapter, we understand that Ghose has to limit himself as to the abundance of material on this particular topic. But, while reading I felt that a portrayal of Women participation in the Constitution framing would have made it more grounded, intellectual as well interrogating the banal amnesia as well as questioning the dominant lexicon of 'Forefathers'. The recent work of Achyut Chetan could have been the point of reference along with original Constitutional Assembly debates.

    In the third chapter on Unification of India, Ghose's work gies beyond the popularised tales of much read and publicised story of Junagadh and Hyderabad merger. It presents an interesting tale of Bhopal, Travancore and Orissa. He brings into light some interesting facts as well as the key role of Bhopal that had nearly ruined Mountbatten's Operation Princes. Infact a detailed story of Hyderabad with all drama, the timeline of its merger is quite interestingly presented by the author. This chapter gives a glimpse as to how the model of India's Federalism can't be bracketed in any established type but portrays its own brand.

    The next Chapter 4 on Partition and Refugees is a fresh take on the events that go beyond the banal approach of communal killings and rioting. Ghose gives a novel sneak peek into the indecisiveness of leadership of both India and Pakistan. Infact the references of Jenkins and B.N. Mullik adds more gravity and depth to this chapter. The Nehru-Liaquat pact too is brought under scanner by sharing different paradigms, more importantly on Bengal of stalwarts like S.P. Mookerjee, which is a very interesting read. Such perspectives are hardly documented elsewhere with magnanimous detailing that author provides. It adds to the rich repertoire of the knowledge available in this domain.

    Chapter 5, touches the Defense and Steel frame of India i.e Civil Services that are important arms of the State. A critical light on the issue of Indianisation of the Armed forces is a quite compelling read. Also, here appears an interesting parallax of INA (Indian National Army) raised by Subhash Bose as an outlier. Infact, the qualitative differences highlighted between Army, Navy and Airforce, with their respective barriers for indianisation are brilliantly portrayed. The chapter shines as it puts forth how Gandhi and staunch Gandhians viewed the defense apparatus, counter arguments to their views make it more readable and can help us draw parallel to the 'nuclear deterrence' theories postulated in today's Russia-Ukraine crisis.

    Chapter 6 titled, "Nehru's Supremacy" is a very important read. Firstly, as the entire period of study of this book falls under the Congress System as noted by Political Scientist, Rajani Kothari and second the title itself raises the curiosity. This chapter is the longest in the book but helps to understand the parliamentary and coalition politics in India. It delves into the making and unmaking of political opposition to counter the dominant Congress system at Union as well as Federal level. An educative and illuminating read is the meta-narratives of the ideological Left that Ghose brings into light which even today are understood in a monolithic way. The problems between Communist Party and Socialist party, the disenchantment of the Left within Congress are superbly put forth. This chapter is a must read to understand the idea of the Left and its historical trajectory in pre-independence and post-independence India. Infact the detailed analysis that Ghose provides can make it a template for current Congress party as to how Nehru tackled the dialectics between Party and Government, Party units in Union, Federal and grassroot levels. The chapter also gives a wider canvas to understand Nehru-Patel hyphenated solidarity in the course of pre and post birth of Republic India than a vague understanding of their propagated rivalry. The part that really struck me was the mayhem around Hindu Code bill. The Right, Nehru and Ambedkar, how they shaped the course of events around this bill can give a better framework to understand the gendered idea of Uniform Civil Code which is a hot topic of discussion in present times.

    Chapter 7 on Foreign Relations gives us an understanding of International politics in an intersectional framework of domestic, national and international politics. The perspectives on Cold war and how India navigated its contours in an enlightened framework of Dignity in International Politics is a learning, relearning experience. Infact, thinking out loud it also leads a scholar as well as layperson to empathize with Nehru on taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. The crisis of Food, the challenge of increasing domestic production and inflation are the subconscious, that go into the making of conscious foreign policy. India's idealistic approach to the People's Republic of China (PRC), shouldering the responsibility to speak for the colonized entities like Indonesia, Indochina, Burma and foregrounding dissent against racism in South-Africa are well delineated. Infact the initial vacillation and balancing the conundrum of which way - the American or Soviet way is brilliantly illustrated. The key role played by India in the Korean crisis gives a glimpse of what India aspired to be in the world of polarities playing in the background but charting its own, sovereign course.

    The last chapter is a short yet important one to be placed last. It lights up the fireworks of the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The problems owing to right wing forces, the indecisiveness of Maharaja Hari Singh, Sheikh Abdullah's rise and fall, Pakistan's deviation from statesperson-like approach, all laden with meticulous detailing and use of sound original sources helps in understanding the essence of Vajpayee's clarion call for Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat to resolve the issue of Kashmir. A fine thread running through all the chapters probably can also lead to thinking that Nehru's act of taking the issue of aggression on Kashmir to the United Nation was the only pragmatic recourse available to the nascent republic of India lacking the necessary resources and upholder of humanity as supreme, in the then conditions. I just felt that Ambedkar's classic treatise, Thoughts on Pakistan, published very early before the partition when the idea of Pakistan was not a reality but also published as revised text later when Pakistan became a tangible reality could have added more qualititatively to this chapter. Nevertheless, the chapter is a must read for all who wish to understand the recent dilution of Article 370 and the corresponding events surrounding it.

    Lastly, this book is a timely intervention to question our morality and fine tune it with Constitutional Morality. To summarize, this book helps us to question the cognitive dissonance that we as citizens have inherited, being fed via socialization or institutional agencies. It gives us a framework to understand the idea behind the making of the Idea of India. It is an essential read for every Indian who gets trapped in the banality of evil that is being perpetrated in the world engulfed with machismo of wearing patriotism on sleeves, discourse of lies, religious parochialism and those who have lost touch with the idea of fraternity. Chandrachur Ghose has taken us on this journey from 1947 to 1957, and we are awaiting him to take us further without any delay.

    The author is a Senior Research Scholar, IIT-Delhi.

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