Social Scientist. v 24, no. 280-81 (Sept-Oct 1996) p. 81.

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Nationalist Movement in Bihar

Vinita Damodaran, Broken Promises: Popular Protest, Indian Nationalism and the Congress Party in Bihar, 1935-1946, Oxford University Press, Delhi 1992, pp. 398, Rs.400.00

The fall-out of a doctoral thesis, this work focuses on the national movement in Bihar. Damodaran seeks to project a framework which critiques the nationalist as well as subaltern historiography. The former with its Congress as a 'historic block" (Bipan Chandra, et al) approach and the latter with its notion of an undifferentiated monolith called the subaltern and 'popular autonomy' in many ways share commonalities, especially when it comes to not recognising the process of interaction between the elite and the subaltern. Consequently, while drawing from Gramsci both tend to marginalise this key element in his thinking.

The author credits the Cambridge School's pioneering efforts to question the idea of a unified national movement, and while doing so sees this as an element dominating history writing 'from R.C. Majupidar to R.P. Dutt' (p.2). Besides the problem of sequence, it is unfair to bracket both these books since the latter was perhaps the second work (after M.N. Roy's India in Transition) which, despite serious limitations, can be actually credited for locating various interests shaping the national movement. Perhaps, it will be relevant here to refer to E.M.S. Namboodiripad's The Mahatma and the Ism which also sought to question the notion of a unified national movement. The author is critical, however, of the Cambridge School for offering a 'neo-Namierite explanation of Indian history' and not attempting 'to study or understand nationalism on the ground ...' (p. 2).

The book begins by locating the goings-on in Bihar in the 1931-37 period. Implicitly, the first chapter prepares the reader with the background leading to the formation of the first Congress ministry in Bihar, stressing both the linkages between the rise of the Congress to power as well as popular expectations and the role of the Kisan Sabha. The post-election right-wing polarisation and caste configurations are also discussed.

Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. 9-10 September-October 1996

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