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'Who Inspired Indian Revolutionaries To Fight British?': Sanjeev Sanyal's Deep Insight

In an explosive interview with Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, noted economist and historian Sanjeev Sanyal speaks about his new book titled "Revolutionaries".

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A stalwart in the field of contemporary economics and historian, Sanjeev Sanyal, in an interview with Republic's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, highlighted his new book "Revolutionaries: The Other Story of How India Won Its Freedom” as a challenge to intellectuals on how India “was not granted freedom but won it”.

Sanyal, a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, spoke extensively about the various stories that have not surfaced due to popular perceptions around the freedom struggle of India.

Focusing on their vital role, Sanyal emphasised on the minimal mention of Indian revolutionaries, which comprised an extensive network around the globe and the armed rebellion surrounding them. The common perception is that “what Bhagat Singh has done and what Netaji (Subhash Chandra Bose) did were individual acts of bravery,” stated Sanyal.

Sanyal put a spotlight on the attempts at revolts against the British that albeit were unsuccessful, are not known to folks discussing history in the 21st century and how legendary historians like Ramesh Chandra Majumdar were sidelined for bringing other narratives to India’s freedom struggle. 

Speaking about revolts during World War I, Sanyal talked about the Ghadar uprising of 1915, which was a plan to initiate a mutiny in the British Indian Army in February 1915 at the height of the Great War. The failed attempt was coordinated by the Ghadar Party of America which consisted of prominent members of the Punjabi Community from Canada. Sanyal also spoke about lesser known revolutionaries like Sachindra Nath Sanyal and Rash Behari Bose, the latter of which formed the historic Indian National Army (INA).

Who inspired revolutionaries more - Indian figures or global events?

“The revolutionaries were characters of their own time, so of course they were impacted by many things including Irish nationalism, communism, the rise of Japan after 1905 when they defeated the Russians, so there were many external influences,” said Sanyal in the interview.

Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini who were prominent nationalist figures in the 19th century in Italy were amongst those who served as an inspiration to Indian revolutionaries, claimed Sanyal while also mentioning the impact of the Russian revolution. 

“But a very important inspiration was also India’s long history of resistance to foreign occupation by the likes of Rana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj,” declared Sanyal, stating that the role of Indian monarchs and their history cannot be understated. Contradicting the current perceived divide between revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Sanyal said that they were all a part of a connected history.

The role of Marxism cannot be undermined

“Why has the role of leftists been undermined, many of whom made tremendous sacrifices,” questioned Sanjeev Sanyal. "One cannot undermine the role of Marxism and its evident popularity in the 1920s and 1930s and how it inspired revolutionaries in India itself."

Defending the statement, Sanyal gave a closer look at how many political streams of current times are derived from the same principle.

Highlighting Swami Vivekananda, Sanyal said, “Swami Vivekanand interestingly is a high inspiration across the ideological spectrum. We are not doing justice to the movement by dividing them into bits and pieces based on today’s ideological debates.” 

When asked why “left-liberals” had removed any element of revolutionary marxist influence in India’s freedom struggle, Sanyal explained how the Communist Party of India (CPI) portrayed Bhagat Singh as the founder of the Marxist movement whereas in reality it was “MN Rao who founded the CPI in Tashkent in 1920”. “The CPI went ahead and supported the British against the INA during the second world war,” he added. 

Exposing the biassed intellectual space in the country, Sanyal concluded by saying that India’s intellectual world was dominated by two versions of the left - “the Marxist left and the Nehruvian left”. “Even after the 1991 reforms, the intellectual space continued to be dominated by them even if the rest of the economy and society changed,” explained Sanyal.

“What you are seeing now is a challenge by the non-left through fields like economics, sociology, history, international relations and therefore ideas are now beginning to knock on the door,” he added. “I am not surprised that incumbents feel threatened by that,” concluded Sanyal.

About Sanyal and his new book

Sanjeev Sanyal is set to release his book "Revolutionaries: The Other Story of How India Won Its Freedom," in the second week of January. He took to Twitter to make the announcement on December 15 last year. 

Sanyal served as the Principal Economic Adviser to the Finance Minister of India for five years until February 2022. He is currently a member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council. His other authored books include "Land of the Seven Rivers," "The Ocean of Churn," "India in the Age of Ideas," and "The Indian Renaissance."

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