In An Indian Political Life: Charan Singh and Congress Politics, 1937 to 1961, Paul Brass has launched a multi-volume study of Charan Singh whom he regards as a neglected leader of post-Independence India. He seems to write with the expectation that careful scholarship will win Charan Singh a place in the pantheon of modern India’s greats.
The first volume under review here is organized into seven parts encompassing 18 chapters. Parts I and VII are devoted to the Introduction and the Conclusion. The five substantive parts, II through VI, address ‘Beginnings’ (two chapters), ‘Town versus the Village’ (three chapters), ‘Law and Order, Corruption, and Criminality in Post-Independence Uttar Pradesh,’ (five chapters), ‘Status, Hierarchy and Gender’ (one chapter), ‘Caste, Faction, and Party’ (four chapters). Brass has used his considerable narrative powers and analytic skills to combine a biography of Charan Singh with case studies based on Charan Singh’s papers that convey many of the important political events of his time.
Charan Singh, b. 1902, is separated by two generations from Mohandas Gandhi (b. 1869) and by one generation from Jawaharlal Nehru, b. 1889. Gandhi died in 1948, Nehru in 1964, Charan Singh in 1987. Charan Singh’s political career overlaps substantially with the two pre-eminent figures of the nationalist and post-Independence eras as well as with other well-known and much celebrated figures of those eras such as C. Rajagopalachari and Vallabhbhai Patel. It is hard to count the number of Gandhi biographies and then, of course, there are the 100 volumes of his collected work. The number of Nehru biographies stretches as far as the eye can see and the Selected Works, first and second series edited by the late S. Gopal, encompass many volumes. Rajagopalachari, ‘Sardar’ Patel and other nationalist generation leaders have been extensively written about and their writings collected, edited and published.