The sociologist, as a student of interhuman relations or social mobility is convinced that in health matters compulsion-no matter at what stage-is an absolute necessity. 1
— Benoy Kumar Sarkar, 1941
Freedom as Therapy Benoy Kumar Sarkar was not a Nazi, in spite of his willingness (in 1934) to praise Hitler as a great ‘teacher’, and (in 1939) to call Germany ‘a state of the people and by the people’. 2 He was not a fascist either. But colonial intelligence described him as a propagandist for fascism, 3 and the insinuation has adhered to him even in the writings of his admirers. ‘Was B.K. Sarkar a fascist?’ wondered Flora, suggesting that Sarkar’s Italian enthusiasms refl ected the frustration of an intelligentsia that had failed to gain traction over peasants, and the desperation of a visionary of ‘development’ confronted with insurmountable problems in the mobilisation of capital. 4 During Sarkar’s stay in Italy in 1929-31, he became enamoured of the Mussolini regime. 5 He befriended Croce, Gini and other right-leaning intellectuals, admired fascist youth organisations, and got drawn into a scheme-backed by Gini and Mussolini’s brother-for an ‘Italo-Indian Institute’ that would be a front for Rome in India. 6 Yet Croce had already lost his own enthusiasm for fascism, 7 and the planned institute was aborted because Mussolini’s government found Sarkar untrustworthy. 8 The skepticism was not baseless. ‘The world has come to realize that there is a limit to dictatorship and absolutism’, Sarkar had written in 1925 when the Italian opposition forced Mussolini to make political concessions. 9 ‘Fascism as a moral force has to justify its existence among the people’, he had added, repelled by the murder of the socialist Giacomo Matteotti the previous year. 10 He had raised a sardonic eyebrow at the rhetorical excesses of Hitler and Ludendorff during their trial for conspiracy in 1923. 11 If anything, he was a critic of fascism, albeit a mild one. Nevertheless, when a chapter
must be prefaced with the observation that the subject was not a Nazi, it indicates a problem that cannot be dismissed as merely a desire for economic growth or trains that run on time. The problem involves the imaginary of individuality, freedom and statehood in the fi nal decades of colonial India, when the nationalist vanguard sought to combine transformation, citizenship and democracy in a single institutional framework.