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

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A Respected Teacher of History

Bipan Chandra's contribution to the historiography of Indian nationalist thought was decisive and unparalleled. A scholar who saw immense value in a Marxist reading of history, his sorties into India's post-1947 political history laid him open to the slur of being a Congress sympathiser. Yet he remained true to his principles, a stand that time has vindicated. Above all, he was a teacher who loved the thrust and parry of the classroom, and the framework he devised for a Marxian approach to nationalism will endure.

Bipan Chandra (1927-2014), historian, activist, teacher, and, above all, a human being, did not wake up on Saturday, 30 August 2014. The author of many publications, beginning with Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India (1966), Bipan was not just one of the historians who blazed a trail in the 50 years after the 1960s. He dominated the discourse. His contribution to the historio­graphy of Indian nationalist thought was decisive and unparalleled. His works were such that one could dis­agree with him, but not ignore him.

Economic nationalism, based on his doctoral thesis, stirred a debate. Bipan belonged to a generation of Marxists who had to reckon with Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, which came out in print later, and his argument marked a departure from R P Dutt’s India Today (1940), which had long been held as a fundamental text for the Marxist interpretation of India’s struggle for freedom. Bipan’s position raised some questions, but notably seemed to provide the framework for a Marxian approach to nationalism. Rather than sticking to the conventional understanding that nationalism belonged to the bourgeoisie, Bipan’s prefix – economic – laid the basis for a new thinking. Note that he did this in the 1960s, at least a decade and half before Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities or Edward Said’s Orientalism.

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