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Estudios de Asia y África

On-line version ISSN 2448-654XPrint version ISSN 0185-0164


KENT CARRASCO, Daniel. Crossing the River with Sandals on: Anti-statist Radicalism and Social Conservatism in British India. Estud. Asia Áfr. [online]. 2016, vol.51, n.3, pp.599-621. ISSN 2448-654X.

During the turn of the twentieth century anticolonial nationalism in British India was tinged by an irresolvable contradiction posed by the defense of a radical rhetoric of national emancipation and a political practice incapable of questioning hierarchical social structures of caste. This contributed to the growth of an unresolved ambiguity during this period between a marked radicalism with regards to opposition to the structures and formations of the state and an emphasis on the importance of its transformation on the one hand, and, on the other, a deep conservatism regarding internal social hierarchies. This ambiguity has had clear effects upon the evolution of the practices and imagination of politics in contemporary India. It has been shared by figures ranging from stalwarts’ supporters of secular nationalism as conceived by the Congress and defendants of the Gandhian legacy based on the importance of swaraj as autonomy, to diverse interpreters of Marxism. At the same time, this ambiguity has been important not only to practices and forms of government, but also to traditions and imaginaries of protest in postcolonial India. In this article, we will explore the presence of this ambiguity in the public debate of British India during these decades through the analysis and juxtaposition of two moments of the intellectual history of India and, more specifically, Bengal. The first one, well known and widely studied, is marked by the nationalist critique of colonial economic policies during the last half of the nineteenth century. This body of critique includes the thought and work of recognized figures of nineteenth century Indian liberalism, such as Dadabhai Naoroji, R. C. Dutt and Prithwis Chandra Ray. The second, considerably less studied, encompasses a set of writings dealing with the relevance of the caste system for the sake of understanding the expansion of certain ideas and tenets of left wing and socialist European radicalism in India at the turn of the twentieth century. By focusing on this material, I am interested in arguing that the radicalism of the nationalist anticolonial movement in India which stemmed from the thrust of early twentieth century swadeshi agitations was revolutionary only in antiimperialist terms and when referring to the need to transform the unjust and oppressive structures of the colonial state. On the contrary, this broad current of nationalism remained profoundly conservative with regards to the internal hierarchies of Indian society.

Keywords : India; ideas; casta; liberalismo; izquierda.

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