Republican Pasts and Socialist Futures
1 January 2021 – 31 July 2021
This project will focus on cultural engagement with India’s history and its reinterpretation in late colonial India by a motley group of Hindi intellectuals who identified themselves as socialists. The research will primarily explore a variety of historical writings across different genres produced between 1930s and 1950s by a number of writer-politician-cultural activists who were part of the shared intellectual-political network and overlapping ideological persuasion. Irrespective of their direct or indirect affiliation to one or multiple political organisations ranging from the Congress, the Socialist or the Communist, these intellectuals, like other contemporary Indian nationalists, were also invested in excavating, writing and interpreting India’s past. Staying within their self-demarcated ideological boundaries, they managed to enunciate a distinctive cultural agenda. Their larger aim, with its fair share of complexities and limitations, was to reconstruct a shared and common national past vis-a-vis the then prevalent hubris of colonial and Indian historiography of India. Such a history, they appear to have believed, would be an intellectual-political resource. It would not only (re)contextualize and diagnose the problems of the nation’s present – the questions of class, caste, gender and community relation, the forms of political power and representation, but also legitimise their politics and, moreover, enable the foundations for a culturally rooted socialist vision of future. The distinctiveness of these Hindi intellectuals, the project aims to show, was conspicuous in their approaches to history, thematic selection of past events, issues and personalities, generic choices and narrative preferences, language and modes of articulation, and intellectual-moral quest for egalitarian and rationalist indigenous traditions. Foregrounding these aspects, this project will examine how in order to address the problems of political, the intellectual adherents of a self-consciously global or international political ideology in a colonialized country reconstructed and negotiated with the complexities of a national-local histories in the vernacular.
Prabhat Kumar was trained as a historian at University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, Germany. He has also taught history at Presidency University, Kolkata. Currently he is assistant professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.