Anand K. Sahay, The Asian Age, 31 August 2014
Professor Bipan Chandra, who passed away at 86 on Saturday, was a glorious historian of the Modern India period who steered three generations of students at Delhi University and JNU to a grasp of the colonial era in India, and its consequences.
Several of Prof. Chandra’s students, themselves fine practitioners of the craft, went on to question some of their guru’s understanding of the forces that moved history in the field of which he was an acclaimed authority. This was particularly true of those who allied themselves to the subaltern school of study.
Nevertheless, Bipan Chandra’s reputation for providing us insights into colonial history, as evidenced in India, always rested on firm foundations. His findings could be built upon or moderated, but not repudiated.
Prof. Chandra’s students can be found in virtually every college or university campus in India and in leading centres of historical study overseas. Through the ‘80s and the ‘90s, even school students benefited from his impressive scholarship through his book written for the CBSE’s high school syllabus on Modern Indian history.
The late professor went from links with the RSS in his own school years to Marxism as he matured as an intellect, but the wide spectrum of his intellectual acquaintance and acceptance perhaps settled on Gandhi as the prime mover of anti-colonial transformation, with Nehru as a protégé who offered a modernistic ideological foil to his master.
This can perhaps be a useful starting point to refresh discourse in the period of Bipan Chandra’s interest at a time when those presiding over the governance destiny of the country have sought to appropriate other stalwarts of the freedom movement.
To Prof. Bipan Chandra “Bipan” to his students and admirers goes the credit of engendering an appreciation of Gandhi and his stupendous contribution to the anti-colonial struggle among subscribers of Leftward thought.
The late professor also rightfully claims our attention for proposing in his works that India’s freedom struggle against colonial rule was no less than a multi-class “revolution”, an aspect of revolution study overlooked by Marxists and non-Marxists alike.
Professor Bipan Chandra wrote extensively over a 50-year span, with deep knowledge and sympathy for India’s “revolution” by standing up against anti-colonial and anti-communal mores. These are aspects of his tradition of historical work that seem especially valid today.