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History as Biography of Nationality

History as Biography of Nationality

Reviews History as Biography of Nationality Lokamanya Te Mahatma by Sadanand More; 2 Vols, Rajahans Prakashan; G P Deshpande It is not easy to react to this massive book that has created a minor stir in Maharashtra

Reviews

History as Biography

of Nationality

Lokamanya Te Mahatma

by Sadanand More; 2 Vols, Rajahans Prakashan; pp xiii + 1247, Rs 1200.

G P DESHPANDE

I
t is not easy to react to this massive book that has created a minor stir in Maharashtra’s intellectual circles. This is obvious from the fact that in less than a year its hard cover edition has been sold out and the second edition is on its way. I should perhaps say Marathi intellectual circles rather than Maharashtra’s intellectual circles. That would make the linguistic context of the argument more clear. Marathi has a tradition of what one might call native discourse on matters sociopolitical and cultural. In other words at least some social science literature is written that is firmly rooted in the Marathi discourse that begins with Jyotirao Phule. This is especially true of the debate on caste. This tradition of debate conducted in Marathi dates from the 19th century. A vast amount of discussion on caste as a historical-social phenomena as also caste in politics, especially on “bahujanvad”, the term popularised by Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, has taken place in Marathi. Bahujanvad as the ideology of a united front providing a basis and theory of “change” in our society that fighting “brahmanism” is fairly old. We shall return to this theme.

As the title of his magnum opus makes clear, Sadanand More’s work is an intelle ctual and socio-political history of the Marathi-speaking people from the times of Lokmanya Tilak to that of Mahatma Gandhi. In telling this story, however, More has been more than particular not to confuse internal contradiction between the forces of caste and the overriding contradiction or opposition, if you will, between imperialism and the Indian people. There has been lately a school of commentators who either dismiss the anti-imperialist struggle or take it to be a minor part of the narrative of the period. He speaks of the ‘brahmanetara’ (non-brahmin) leader ship and organi sations with considerable sympathy and understanding but never loses his main point, which is that in the period under survey the principal contradiction was and had to be British colonialism. He however traces the history of modern Maharashtra as consisting of a dual narrative and avoids the temptation of following single-track, i e, caste radicalism. And no wonder that he does so; for he firmly believes in the Marathi bhakti tradition, which, unlike the south Indian tradition, sees unity in Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Siva), in other words in the Vaishnava and Saiva traditions. The Marathi bhakti tradition, unlike the north Indian bhakti tradition, also does not see any contradiction between the ‘saguna’ and ‘nirguna’ schools of thought but rather emphasises their unity. More’s work is true to that tradition. The struggles and politics centred on caste on the one hand and struggles centred on the nationalist movement had much in them to suggest a fierce struggle.

More has documented these struggles quite meticulously. His perspective on caste struggles is more in the tradition of Maharshi Shinde who understood the dual and indeed conflicting pressure. Shinde’s Bahujanancha Zahirnama (the manifesto of the majority, i e, the small and middle caste people or in other words the non-brahmins) appeared a good seven decades earlier than the manifesto of Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. She has tried to appropriate Ambedkar and Shahu Maharaj, the progressive ruler of Kolhapur. But she would not have anything to do with Shinde. Shinde established the depressed classes mission in India. His book on the Problem of Un touchability in India was easily the first work of its kind. But neither the marathas nor the dalits have quite owned him and he has remained largely ignored. It was only two years ago that the first definitive biography of the man appeared in print. It seems that More’s view of modern history is fairly close to that of Shinde. His critically sympathetic account of Tilak and his politics is partly a function of a Shinde-like perspective on modern Maharashtra history. We live in the Marathi world that seems to have little use for the Shinde position that opposed the proposal for a civil felicitation of Tilak by the Pune municipality and never gave up the principle of cooperation with the mainstream (high caste) nationalist leaders. Shinde is devastatingly critical of the socalled Tilakites who could not understand Gandhi or his leadership. However, there was a section among them that became dedicated followers of Gandhi. A major example was K P Khadilkar, an overwhelmingly successful playwright and editor of Kesari, Tilak’s newspaper.

It is this central theme that helps him see clearly the failure of Hindutva or the failure of a tiny movement of M N Roy’s followers. It is More’s negotiation of the upper caste and the brahmanetara impulses that makes him see the significance of N V Gadgil’s presence (a brahmin) at the invitation of Keshavarao Jedhe, easily the most prominent maratha leader, at a maratha conference in Pune. More rightly stresses the importance of Gadgil’s presence at the conference and Jedhe’s vision in inviting him there.

It is also worthwhile to note that More tells the story of literature and the arts, especially theatre as they ran parallel to the politics of the Marathi-speaking people. There are few, if at all, professional critics in Marathi who have so set the theatre and music in the context of the political and social movements. In that sense he writes the biography of the Maharashtrian “nationality”. Most scholars know very little of the upsurge of ideas in the Marathi language. Many respectable scholars probably know little more beyond the Hindutva ideology and Veer Savarkar. More brings out several relevant people. He has discussed Rajwade and Shejvalkar, for example, to trace the debates over historiography or historical method. A name like D D Kosambi does not figure (his father Dharmanand Kosambi does figure), but that may be because of the fact that this history concentrates in the main on writings in Marathi. It concentrates on the movements, writings, and debates that played an interventionist role in the history and politics of the Marathi nationality. In that sense D K Bedekar and

Economic and Political Weekly September 22, 2007

S A Dange have mattered significantly to the emergence of modern Marathi consciousness.

One great merit of this book is that apart from a few exceptions all the people who have mattered in Maharashtra’s cultural and political history figure in this narrative. There is a fullness to this account that is remarkable. It is truly a biography of a nationality. Our traditional history writing makes the centre or the nation the basis of its narrative. This book makes this Marathi nationality its focus. This book was first serialised in a weekly newspaper. Therefore, too many chapters. I would have liked some reorganisation of the material but the material gathered here is pheno menal and some of it is quite rare. To cite one example, he discusses the British teachers of Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur and Sayajirao Maharaj of Baroda. Both were appointed by the British rulers. But both had different attitudes towards the “empire”. This mattered inasmuch as they had different understandings of their royal patrons. More seems to be very appreciative of Sayajirao. He discusses the maratha encounter with modernity and cites such details as this in his discussion. More’s account is very readable and his language supports his erudition without being pompous. The text is rich in terms of citations from secondary source – material except that it does not follow the standard academic rules of citation. Being a serialised form of writing that was perhaps unavoidable, yet another reason why he might have done well to organise his material differently. Some people have found his footnoting style less than academic. This was perhaps unavoidable since he was using the serial form for presentation. An important book nevertheless.

EPW

Email: gpdesh@vsnl.com

Economic and Political Weekly September 22, 2007

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