Review: India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra et. al.

October 18, 2013

Authors: Bipan Chandra, Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd
Year: 2008
ISBN: 9780143104094
Rating: ★★★★☆
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Even though the period after independence is the most familiar of historical periods, there is a dearth of good academic writing on it. In this context, India Since Independence can be regarded as a welcome corrective.

The sequel to India’s Struggle for Independence, it seeks to trace the history of India from the infant steps of the late 1940s to the onset of the new millennium. Unlike works preceding and succeeding it however, India Since Independence covers economic history and important socio-economic aspects (like caste, communalism and the role of women) as well.

Though the book is a sequel, the authors’ coverage of the state of India on the eve of independence is too detailed to give any hint of this, though the continuity between pre and post independence India is carefully brought out. Having mentioned the major challenges to the nation therein, the authors proceed with the complex process of state formation, describing in delightful detail the debates and concerns of the Constituent Assembly, the role of the Congress in it, and the consolidation and reorganization of the Indian states. Thereafter, we are taken into political history proper, beginning with the Nehru years. The authors delve carefully into Jawaharlal Nehru’s painstaking efforts at educating the masses through electoral campaigns and laying the foundations of an electoral system based on universal franchise through free and fair functioning of the Election Commission and later, the Parliament.

It then moves into the Shastri years, bringing out the political equations of that confused era, followed by the rise of Indira Gandhi and her efforts to tackle the new challenges which faced the nation in the late 60s and early 70s. Especially interesting is the devotion of an entire chapter to the rise of the JP movement and the Emergency that followed, thereby underlining the immense importance of the shock of Emergency for the maturation of the Indian nation. The book then analyzes the formation and fall of the Janata government, the shifts in Congress, Indira’s return to power and the period leading up to her assassination. Rajiv Gandhi’s measures, his own assassination and the confused policies of the VP Singh government are thereafter covered in some detail.

However, it is the chapters which follow the study of politics at a national level, which truly set this book apart. First we get an analysis of the regional politics, divided into three chapters for easier analysis. The study of the economy from independence onwards is equally illuminating, with extensive data being provided. Equally notable is the emphasis on land reforms. The final few chapters focus on social aspects like caste and communalism, with a separate chapter being devoted to the position of women.

The book is comprehensive, and easy to read. However, it does suffer from a few minor faults. First, somewhat less emphasis on the “Great Men” would have been a welcome change. The description of Nehru’s efforts appears a bit too laudatory in certain places. The chapters on the economy, further, would have been easier for the general reader if tables had been provided instead of giving statistics in the text itself.

In the final analysis, the importance of the work depends on one’s personal outlook, written as it is with a nationalist bias. However, the sheer depth of scholarship and extent of the topics covered make this work a must-read for anyone who wants to know about India’s contemporary history.

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