The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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INDIAN FREEDOM STRUGGLE The Pathfinders from Surendranath Banerjee to Gandhi By B. Krishna, Manohar, Rs 450

Any study of India’s freedom struggle is commonly woven around three stalwarts — Gandhi, Nehru and Subhas Bose. Krishna attempts a fairer estimate by taking note of the contribution of several lesser luminaries.

According to Krishna, the movement can be split up into three phases — 1876-1904, which saw awakening of political consciousness under Surendranath Banerjee; 1905-20 witnessed the emergence of militancy with Tilak as its leader; 1921-47 belonged to Gandhi.

Banerjee heralded the first public protest on an all-India basis yet, as Krishna points out, his vision of independence, as that of most of his contemporaries, did not go beyond securing for Indians a greater share in the governance of their country.

Krishna hails Tilak as the father of unrest together with Aurobindo, C.R. Das and Bipinchandra Pal. He claims that Tilak blazed a new trial when he took up fearlessly the cause of the suffering peasantry in the famine of 1896 in Konkan in Maharashtra. Krishna is in his element while dealing with the extremists.

He is also good in his treatment of Gandhi, rightly dubbing the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement as a tactical error. He suggests tongue-in-cheek that the British were extremely lucky in having an uncompromising stickler for non-violence like Gandhi as their principal opponent. Of course, Gandhi displayed political astuteness on more occasions than one. As Krishna points out, he chose the vacillating Nehru as his heir and exploited his weaknesses to his advantage. Krishna draws attention to the dubious decisions of Gandhi. For example, Gandhi adopted a non-committal attitude towards the communal award instead of rejecting it outright. He also fought for the removal of untouchability, not abolition of the caste system.

Krishna however does not dwell too much on Gandhi’s role in the 1942 movement. But Gandhi’s ambivalence during the time had been no less significant in confusing the revolutionaries.

Krishna writes in detail about the rift between Bose and Gandhi and Bose’s subsequent ventures. He thinks Bose’s was a posthumous victory. The INA triggered a revolutionary upsurge which finally prompted the British to leave. To quote Alistair Lamb: “The agitation against their trial...seemed to suggest that the British could not rely much longer on the Indian forces to keep India under British rule.”

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