Social Scientist. v 23, no. 263-65 (April-June 1995) p. 58.

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Nationalism and Popular Consciousness: Bengal 1942


Debates on Indian nationalism have reached a sophisticated level. The nationalist version of a homogeneous and 'unitarian' national movement or early Marxist theory of 'class-betrayal' by Gandhian leadership is now generally considered as too simplistic a paradigm for analysing the development of mass nationalism in late colonial India. Instead, regional subnationalism, factional politics, the imperfect nature of Congress mobilisation, autonomous subaltern assertions and peasant nationalism have emerged as competing perspectives in unfolding the complex story of Indian nationalist and freedom struggle against British ride.1 A 1983 study on the role of popular pressures from below in shaping the nature of national outbursts, particularly enriched our understanding of regional variations in nationalist agitations and radicalisation of mainstream nationalism at critical conjunctures.2

In recent years the 'disaggregated' view of the Indian nation has taken a new turn with Partha Chatterjee's treatise that emphasises the essentially fragmented nature of Indian identity in colonial as well as post-colonial India .3 Chatterjee's intervention is largely a logical corollary to some of the earlier insights on Indian national movement in terms of which the nation viewed from below had extremely divergent meanings and implications depending on regions, localities and perceptions of subordinate social groups.4 Recognising the importance of studying the variegated nature of socio-political consciousness of Indians in British India, it would, however, be wrong to deny instances where narrower local or regional or subaltern identities merged with the broader national persuasion to generate amongst the Indian people interrelated forms of consciousness. The present paper seeks to substantiate the hypothesis of the persistence of an overarching sense of national identity despite the variegated nature of popular5 consciousness in the light of some evidence on the 1942 Quit India Movement in Bengal. It first identifies the forms of popular protest that developed around the August Revolt, and then demonstrates the link between popular protest consciousness and the articulation of nationalist identity.

The Quit India Movement, making the penultimate stage of Indian struggle for liberation from the colonial yoke, did certainly unnerve the Raj. This was

* Department of History, University of Calcutta.

Social Scientist, Vol. 23, Nos. 4-6, April-June 1995

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