1947-1957 India: The Birth of a Republic
Author: Chandrachur Ghose
Published by Vintage (An Imprint of Penguin Random House)
MRP: Rs. 799/-
Acknoledgement: Thank you @penguinindia for a review copy of the book.
Chandrachur Ghose's new book 1947-1957, India offers a compelling behind-the-scenes look at the tumultuous first decade of India's independence. Spanning the transfer of power from the British Raj to a sovereign republic, Ghose peels back the curtain to reveal the personalities, relationships, and political machinations that shaped modern India.
The book opens with the tense negotiations between Indian nationalist leaders, the Muslim League, and the outgoing British Viceroy Lord Mountbatten to chart the subcontinent's transition to independence. Ghose vividly illustrates the divisions among Congress leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Azad over acceding to partition and dominion status. He highlights how the threat of mutiny from Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army pushed a war-weary Britain into hastily relinquishing the jewel of its empire.
From there, Ghose chronicles the herculean task of integrating the princely states into the Dominion of India. Patel's mastery as the iron man of Congress shines through in the deft political maneuvering, alternating between carrots and sticks, he employed to bring recalcitrant rulers in line. The integration was almost derailed by the vacillating Maharaja of Kashmir until Pakistan's tribal invasion forced his hand. Ghose offers an intriguing counterfactual on how relations between India and Pakistan may have evolved had Kashmir acceded to the latter.
The human toll of Partition is laid bare as millions uprooted from their homes flee as refugees to their new dominions. Ghose is unsparing in his critique of Congress leaders who failed to anticipate the population exchange and were reduced to passive spectatorship of the communal bloodletting. He also highlights how Nehru and India's diplomatic corps navigated the shifting sands of the Cold War to establish ties with both power blocs.
Ghose excels in teasing out the ideological tensions and personality clashes that characterized relations within Congress. Sparks flew between Nehru's socialist ideals and Patel's pragmatic conservatism. The tussle for control over party and government between the two is portrayed almost like a shadow duel, unseen but keenly felt. Patel's early death left Nehru the undisputed leader to shape the newly formed republic.
The author sheds light on Nehru's conception of an independent foreign policy. By spurning military blocs, Nehru sought to preserve India's strategic autonomy and carve out a Third Way between warring superpowers. Ghose suggests that non-alignment was as much an ideological conviction for Nehru as a pragmatic necessity given India's limited power. He also highlights the dominant role of V.K. Krishna Menon as Nehru's confidante in crafting sensitive policies.
On the domestic front, Nehru comes across as deeply conflicted between his socialist instincts and the pragmatic need to incentivize private enterprise. Ghose shows how Nehru battled conservative elements within Congress who opposed his progressive legislative agenda on land reforms and planning. Planning emerges as Nehru's personal passion to rapidly industrialize India while balancing growth and social justice.
The author provides a balanced perspective by not shying away from Nehru's mistakes, such as neglecting primary education and agriculture. He argues that the paramountcy granted to heavy industry skewed resource allocation and hardly benefited the masses. Ghose also highlights how Nehru's idealism was challenged by geopolitical realities in cases like Tibet.
While packed with details, the prose remains highly accessible and engaging. Ghose employs an elegant narrative style that seamlessly integrates the perspectives of an eclectic range of characters from Gandhi to junior bureaucrats. 1947-1957, India will satisfy both the casual reader and the scholar. Ghose curates a trove of archival records, private correspondences and biographical accounts to construct an authentic portrait of this founding decade. 10 years of India's history are skilfully distilled into a compelling read of 15 riveting chapters.
In 1947-1957, India, Chandrachur Ghose makes a vital contribution to the historiography of modern India. By marshaling diverse sources and perspectives, Ghose questions many received narratives and shibboleths. He combines rigorous scholarship with lucid writing to produce an authoritative yet eminently readable chronicle. Ghose illuminates the ideas, passions and infirmities of the extraordinary figures who shepherded India's passage from colony to republic. 1947-1957, India is essential reading for understanding the trials, tribulations and triumphs of India's formative decade.
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