Social Scientist. v 16, no. 178 (March 1988) p. 3.

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Subaltern Studies III & TV: A Review Article


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Kapil Kumar

Shahid Amin's essay, 'Gandhi as Mahatma: Gorakhpur Distdct, Eastern UP, 1921-22', the first in Volume III of Subaltern Studies, is a product of meticulous research, and at the same time a self-contradictory exercise. Amin makes it clear that his concern is not with 'analysing the attributes of his [Gandhi's] charisma but with how this registered in peasant consciousness' (p.2). This, according to him, is a perspective which is 'somewhat different from the view usually taken of this grand subject' (p.2)i.e., the relationship between peasants and Gandhi. The aim of the exercise, Amin tells us, is a 'limited one of taking a close look at peasant perceptions of Gandhi by focussing on the trail of stories. . . ' (p.2). The two main issues discussed are the 'location of the Mahatma image within the existing patterns of popular beliefs and Ac way it informed direct action, often at variance with the standard interpretations of the Congress creed' (p.2).

Gandhi's popularity rested on his 'peasant image' which had been projected by the press, intelligentsia and the dominant social groups during and after the Champaran episode. It was not what he had done in South Africa that was registered in peasant consciousness but his role as a leader who took up the peasants* cause and talked about their grievances and exploitation.1

Let us begin by examining how peasant consciousness registered the image of the Mahatma. Both perceptions and popular beliefs emerge, exist and operate within specific social and economic relationships. And these popular perceptions and beliefs are also influenced by the class positions and interests of the dominant classes who play a vital role in their emergence, propagation and transmission. This is precisely where Amin is not only ambiguous, but his search for a 'somewhat different perspective* takes him away from social reality and what has been claimed as subaltern history. Amin laboriously links the Mahatma's image with rumour and existing popular beliefs but he fails to delineate the links between the image, the rumours, the agrarian;structure and political action. After all, rumours are not supra-historical.

^Ranajit Guha (ed.), Subaltern Studies HI, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1984, 327 pp

Reader in History, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University. New Delhi.

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