chapter  2
THE PREHISTORY OF GANDHIAN NATIONALISM
Pages 27

The conceptual frame of modern Indian politics has conventionally been set between the twin poles of nationalism and colonialism. As Judith Brown writes in her book Modern India, histories of Indian politics before the 1970s took ‘the ideals and techniques of imperialism, and the growth of all-Indian nationalism’ as their dominant themes.1 In the flush of euphoria following independence, and perhaps as a means of exorcizing the demons of partition, Indian historians felt ‘under particular pressure to build up a mythology of nationalism, to laud its heroes and martyrs, to “prove” the existence of Indian nationhood, and to mask the tensions which threatened to rend the movement and undermine the nationalists’ claims’.2 Great emphasis was laid on the unity of the nationalist movement, and Partition was dismissed as an aberration, or the consequence of British ‘divide and rule’. The origins of such horrific events were not sought for within the nationalist movement itself. Furthermore, as Brown points out, ‘academic analysis of India’s situation was based on the way English speakers studied history and political science – concentrating on institutions, parties, pressure groups’, and thus the story of India’s struggle for independence crystallized around two protagonists, the Congress and the Raj.3 This struggle took on the dimensions of an ‘epic struggle’, to use the name of a book on the subject, a latter-day Mahabharata, with its requisite heroes and villains.4 Unlike epic, however, this historiography took a linear form and schisms were reconciled within the overall framework of unity, as Congress marched on its inexorable way to victory. As a consequence of this eulogizing approach the history of Indian nationalism was reduced to the history of the Congress, and the unity of the Congress was posited as an equivalence to the unity of the nation. In this line of thinking, the Congress’s claims to represent the nation were accepted unproblematically, and against all the available evidence.