ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Professor Bipan Chandra (1928-2014)

Few historians of modern India have had as much widespread influence as did Bipan Chandra. A popular and engaged teacher, history research and writing was never a dispassionate exercise for him. His contributions to Marxist and nationalist interpretations of modern India remain important markers of historiography. This article traces his long intellectual journey and flags the important shifts.

When Bipan Chandra passed away on 30 August 2014 an era came to an end. That was the era which saw in post-Independence India the growth of the Nationalist School of historians and the rise of the Marxist school as well. Among the foremost in that generation of historians, ­Bipan Chandra played an important role in constructing and reconstructing both these schools or styles of thinking. His first and his best work of research, The Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India (1966), remains unsurpassed, a locus classicus. The empirical richness of that work was not to be matched later, but in general his contribution to and critique of both Marxist and nationalist historiography constituted a set of readings no student of history can do without.

There is another reason why he ranked among the foremost of historians. He was an admirable teacher who brought to each lecture he delivered an infective enthusiasm and a passionate commitment which influenced a huge number of students at Hindu College and the University of Delhi, and later at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. While Bipan Chandra’s work of research or his lectures might have been influential, there is a third reason why his name spread beyond the circle of his professional peers and the walls of his classroom and became a household word. He was the author of a textbook on modern Indian history which was read by hundreds of thousands of people. Written for the National Council of Educational Research and Training for the senior secondary schools, the book was read by students ranging from those in schools to those in graduate courses, aspirants for government jobs through competitive examinations, and all manner of people who are described in publishers’ argot as general readers. For all these reasons, Bipan Chandra became one of the most widely recognised historians of his generation.

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