ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Politics of Disengagement

A Possible India: Essays in Political Criticism by Partha Chatterjee; OUP, Delhi, 1997; pp 301, Rs 495 (hb).

Frankly speaking, it is a difficult book    to review partly due to the fact that this is not an academic work in any conventional sense. Only one-fourth of its spreadsheet constitutes ‘Special Article’ and the rest three-fourths columns, notes, perspective essays and, above all, book reviews. This mixed genre of writings is a disappointment for an orthodox reviewer looking for ‘Special Articles’ of the EPW mode that would unravel long-term dynamics of politics in India with a ‘hindsight’ view pursued with certain depth and patience no matter what perspectives inform them. But it is also a difficult book to review because the author disclaims, without labouring hard, most of his writings published here in his preface. Chatterjee declares Neti to liberalism, populism and socialism but refuses to choose any perspective – a mode of disengagement akin to the Neti philosophy. Are we witnessing a kind of post-modernism and its logic of disintegration here? It is not self-evident either.

Chatterjee begins with a review article dealing with the role of the big bourgeoisie in the course of transfer of power in India. He challenges Suniti K Ghosh’s main thesis that the Indian big bourgeoisie has been compradore in nature from its very birth and that it was never hostile to foreign capital before or after the transfer of power. Chatterjee argues that such a view is very deterministic and ignores the specificities of colonial and anti-colonial encounters in India. The Indian bourgeoisie was formed as brokers and suppliers of British managing agencies in the period up to the end of first world war . Accumulation of capital by the domestic bourgeoisie took place in collaboration with foreign capital and the colonial government. But, at the same time, the Indian capitalists required the creation of a formally independent state in order to bargain vis-a-vis global capitalism for private accumulation. By the late 1930s, they launched a major onslaught on British companies in the jute and coal industries. By the early 1940s, in the so-called ‘Bombay Plan’, the Indian industrial houses jointly called for a leading role of the state in providing infrastructure for private accumulation in post-independence India.

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