View of imperialist historians on the Independence struggle

View of imperialist historians on the Independence struggle

QuestionThe Imperialist schools of historians had a different approach towards the Indian independence struggle. Discuss its character in detail.

The Imperialist approach of the British rulers to the Indian independence movement first emerged in the official pronouncements of the Viceroys, Lords Dufferin, Curzon and Minto, and the Secretary of State, George Hamilton. The first ones to put this school of thought forward clearly were V. Chirol, the Rowlatt (Sedition) Committee Report, Verney Lovett, and the Montaguee-Chelmsford Report and it was theorized for the first time by Bruce T. McCully, an American scholar, in 1940.

There is a liberal version of this school too but conservative one is popular in the academic circle.

Conservative View-

The conservative colonial administrators and the imperialist school of historians, popularly known as the Cambridge School

1. Denial of existence of colonialism

- They denied the existence of colonialism in the economic, political, social and cultural circumstance in India.

- For them colonialism is primarily the foreign rule. So the economic, social, cultural and political development of India did not require the overthrow of colonialism, according to them.

- They refused to acknowledge the basic disagreement between the interests of the Indian people and of the British rule and how it was responsible for the rise of the national movement.

2. Lack of motive

- They openly said that the Indian national movement did not stand for the Indian side of this disagreement or anti-imperialism, it just to oppose British imperialism in India.

- They see the Indian struggle against imperialism as a mock battle (‘mimic warfare’), “a Dassehra duel between two hollow statues locked in motiveless and simulated combat.”

3. Denial of existence of Nation

- The imperialist writers’ idea of India was a collection of religions, castes, communities and interests and they deny that it was trying to become a nation.

- Thus, the building up of Indian politics around the concept of an Indian nation or an Indian people or social classes is not recognized by them rather said that there were other pre-existing groupings like Hindu-Muslim, Brahmin, Non-Brahmin, Aryan, Bhadralok (cultured people) and other similar identities. These groups based on caste and religion, according to them, was the real basis of political organization and nationalism was just a cover.

4. Elite movement against british

- They deny that it was a people’s movement and believe that it was formed to fulfill the needs and interests of the elite groups for either themselves or the interests of their prescriptive groups. Nationalism was, thus, considered primarily an ideology which helped these elite groups to legitimize their narrow ambitions and to acquire public support.

- Dufferin, Curzon, Chirol, Lovett, McCully, and B.B. Misra believed that the frustrated educated middle classes used nationalism to fight the ‘benevolent Raj’.

- But Seal develops a parallel view, as do Chirol and the Rowlait Committee Report, that the national movement was in fact the struggle of one Indian elite group against another to secure British favors.

- Further, Seal, Gallagher and their students followed and added to the viewpoint of the British historian Lewis Namier and concluded that these groups were formed on the basis of patron-client relationships.

- Their theory is that, as the British extended administrative, economic and political power to the local and provincial level, so called local leaders started organizing political groups by acquiring clients and patrons who they can be of use to, and who can be of use to them. Indian politics was formed through the links of this patron-client chain.

- Gradually, bigger leaders emerged to act as brokers to link together the politics of these local heads. Brokers at all-India level emerged as the British rule covered the whole of India. These all-India brokers needed province level brokers (also called contractors) for easy operation, and needed clients to form the national movement. Seal labels Gandhi, Nehru, and Patel as chief political brokers.

- According to these historians, the people, whose fortunes were involved in this power brokering, joined in only in 1918. They further convey that their grievances such as war, inflation, disease, drought or depression had, in fact, nothing to do with colonialism, but were cleverly used to trick them into participating in the broker-client movement.

5. Absence of masses from struggle of independence

- This school of historians treat the Indian national movement as a cloak for the struggle for power between various sections of the Indian elite, and between them and the foreign elite.

- Thus they justified their belief in the non-existence and illegitimacy of the movement of Indian people for the overthrow of imperialists and to establish self-rule. Criteria like categories of nation, class, mobilization, ideology, etc., through which generally national movements and revolutionary processes in Europe, Asia and Africa are analyzed, are largely missing from the analysis of the Indian national movement.

- Any intelligent or active role to the mass of workers, peasant lower middle class and women in the anti-imperialist struggle is not recognized. They are treated as a dumb lot who had no perception of their needs and interests and blindly followed the brokers.

These historians outrightly deny colonial exploitation and underdevelopment, and the contradiction of the Indians and the British. They also did not believe that the anti-imperialist fighters had any idealism. As S. Gopal has put it, ‘Namier was accused of taking the mind out of politics; this School has gone further and taken not only the mind but decency, character integrity and selfless commitment out of the Indian national movement’.
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