Writing Indian History in the Marxist Mode in a Post-Soviet World
Review of Irfan Habib, Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception, Tulika, New tfelW, 1995, pp. x+389, Rs 450.
Irfan Habib is probably one of the two most prominent Marxist historians of India today and at the same time, one bf the greatest living historians of India between the twelfth aind eighLteehth centuries. His schblarship is forrnidable, liis judgements are magisterial arid the quality of his ioirirriitment as an intellectual and as a fighter for the cause of a socialist India is awe-inspiring. It is very good to have fnbst bf his canonical essays collected within the covers of a single volume for several different reasons. vThey Will be very useful to all Students of Indian history \vho have hitherto had to h^rit in many different places for those papers. They are alsb useful because they convey to us an idjea bf the Visibirt which drives a historian of the stature of Irfah Habib.
But finally, and this to me is thte nt()st challenging reason fbr feelirig excited by the availability of all these riches in one place, they compel vis to explicate our reasons for feeling Uncomfortable With sbriie of the formulations despite the forrnidable nature of the schblarship backing them. The task of articulating bur disquiet becotnes even rnofe difficult when we realise the decree of Consistency WithL which Habib advances them over the^neBtly^four decades of scholarly activity which these essays embody. It is nbt possible to dismiss any of the formulations on the grbtind that Habib strays beyond the limits of the centuries which he has chosen as fields fot intensive cultivation. For, judging at least by his Fiattdrihg of the materials relatiiig to niiiete^eiith-ceiituiy iiidia W have some familiarity, his freatmeilt of India of the Ashokari or Vedic period is alnnost as surefooted as his treatment bf MughalIndia.
In his justly Jambus paper, 'The Social Distribution of Landed Property in pre-British India: A Historical Survey', first published in 1965, Habib summarizes the work of scholars enquiring into the
Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. 1-3, January-March 1996