The Indian historian was awarded the prize for Historic Biography 2023 in its twentieth anniversary yr for Rebels in opposition to the Raj: Western Fighters for India’s Freedom
the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historic Biograph
THE debate on the rights and wrongs of empire needn’t be “poisonous”, the Indian writer Ramachandra Guha has mentioned, after profitable an necessary historical past prize.
Guha was final week awarded the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historic Biography 2023 in its twentieth anniversary yr for Rebels in opposition to the Raj: Western Fighters for India’s Freedom (revealed by William Collins).
The e-book tells the weird story of seven white foreigners – 4 males, three girls – who have been severely punished by the ruling British institution of the day for supporting the battle for Indian independence. Of the seven, 4 have been British, two American, and one Irish.
On the just lately held Jaipur Literary Pageant on the British Library, plenty of writers, together with Sathnam Sanghera, writer of Empireland, mentioned the talk in regards to the empire had turn into so “poisonous” that even to ask questions in regards to the darkish facet of the colonial rule in India, for instance, was to ask racist abuse.
Talking from his dwelling in Bangalore (now Bengaluru), Guha mentioned it was wiser to convey “nuance and subtlety and humanity to the entire discourse”.
He mentioned: “On both facet, the empire debate is so poisonous as a result of it’s black and white. On one facet you have got those that simply see the British as bringing civilisation right here (in India), and on the opposite facet, you have got those that see them inevitably as rapacious plunderers and exploiters.”
Guha mentioned he had written his e-book “out of private curiosity in a person who had fascinated me for a very long time. However because it seems, it comes at a time when there’s a debate about empire. I hope individuals will see that the talk is rather more nuanced than it’s normally introduced.”
That there was one thing redeeming about plenty of British people was recognised by Indian freedom icons Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
“The British have been imperialistic and may very well be brutal. However there was additionally ambivalence. That they had a sure elementary human conscience, which may very well be stirred and woke up, no less than, amongst a few of them. In that sense, my e-book is a tribute to the opposite facet of the British.”
The prize which Guha gained “was established in 2003 in affectionate reminiscence of Elizabeth Longford (1906-2002), an acclaimed historic biographer and household matriarch finest recognized for Victoria RI (1964), her scholarly and readable lifetime of Queen Victoria, for her magisterial Wellington: Years of the Sword (1969), and Wellington: Pillar of State (1972)”.
Together with a cheque for £5,000, the winner additionally obtained a sure copy of Longford’s autobiography, The Pebbled Shore (1986) when he was in London final Monday (12). Guha’s e-book is now in with such earlier large identify winners as Fredrik Logevall’s JFK, Quantity One; Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Amongst Mates: Kim Philby and the Nice Betrayal; Charles Moore’s Margaret Thatcher: The Licensed Biography, Quantity 1: Not For Turning; Frances Wilson’s The way to Survive The Titanic; and David Gilmour’s The Lengthy Recessional: The Imperial Lifetime of Rudyard Kipling.
On this yr’s shortlist of 5, there was one other e-book with an Indian theme – Guru to the World: The Life and Legacy of Vivekananda by Ruth Harris.
The judging panel, chaired by Roy Foster, Emeritus Professor of Irish Historical past at Oxford, included Elizabeth Longford’s daughter and granddaughter, Antonia Fraser and Flora Fraser, respectively, and Rana Mitter, Professor of the Historical past and Politics of Trendy China at Oxford.
Foster mentioned: “From an immensely sturdy area the judges have chosen a e-book the place the writer’s deep empathy and spectacular scholarship are lit up by a passionate regard for his topics.” Guha, Foster defined, had profiled seven individuals “who adopted India’s battle for independence and in doing so discovered their very own destinies. The expertise of India modified their ideologies, their spirituality, and infrequently their names.
“In tracing their relationships revolving across the magnetic determine of Gandhi, Guha provides a brand new perspective to the Mahatma’s life, on which he has already centered so rewardingly in his multi-volume biography.
“Alert to his topics’ disappointments and occasional delusions, he salutes their dedication to a brand new lifestyle and their prescience in regards to the wants of a post-colonial world and India’s place in it. Rebels In opposition to the Raj exhibits how historic biography can illuminate the mood of the occasions via immersion in particular person lives.
“As Guha factors out, oppression doesn’t disappear with the ending of colonial rule, and the concepts and priorities incisively drawn out on this e-book deserve pressing consideration in as we speak’s India.” Six of the seven individuals Guha profiled in his e-book died in India.
The writer mentioned Indians could have heard of “Annie Besant due to her theosophy and in addition as a result of she was the primary feminine president of Congress” and Mira Behn, an admiral’s daughter who had modified her identify from Madeleine Slade and was performed by Geraldine James in Richard Attenborough’s Oscar profitable, Gandhi. However the e-book has different heroes – for instance, Samuel Stokes, an American Quaker who modified his first identify to Satyanand, took an Indian spouse, Agnes, and roughly grew to become a Hindu.
Then there was the campaigning journalist Benjamin Man Horniman, who outraged the colonial masters by supporting Indian independence; Philip Spratt, a Cambridge graduate who helped set up the Communist Celebration of India; and Richard Ralph Keithahn, an American missionary who labored to coach and supply healthcare for villagers in south India.
British-born Catherine Mary Heilemann – renamed Sarala Behn – arrange a women’ faculty and was a pioneering environmentalist campaigner in north India.
When the e-book got here out final summer time, Guha informed Jap Eye: “The lives and doings of those people represent a morality story for the world we at present reside in. It is a world ruled by paranoia and nationalist xenophobia, with the rise of jingoism in nation after nation, and a corresponding contempt for concepts and people that emanate from exterior the borders of 1’s nation.
“No foreigner, they consider, can train them something. This e-book tells us that they will.
“The main focus of this e-book is on people who decisively modified sides, figuring out fully with India, assembly Indians on completely equal phrases as buddies and lovers, and as comrades on the road and in jail too.”
Guha revealed final week that he was impressed by the lifetime of Verrier Elwin when he was an MA scholar at Delhi College. “He was a maverick British anthropologist who labored with Indian adivasis (tribal folks).
“Mainly, he was an Oxford scholar who was a priest, got here to India, met Gandhi, left the church, began working amongst adivasis in central India, grew to become a number one skilled on them, and Nehru despatched him as an advisor to the north-east and he spent his final 10 years there.
“I used to be charmed by his work and his writing and determined economics will not be for me and I did a PhD in sociology and moved to historical past due to Elwin. Elwin’s large remorse was that in contrast to his precise (white) contemporaries, he was by no means arrested. He thought there was one thing missing in his CV.
“The concept of this e-book (Rebels in opposition to the Raj) occurred whereas I used to be engaged on Elwin greater than 25 years in the past.
“With out Elwin I’d not have written this e-book, with out Elwin I’d not have turn into a biographer, with out Elwin I’d not have completed a PhD, I’d have turn into a boxwallah. Like most Indians of my technology, I may need joined the IAS or one thing relatively mundane. So, studying Elwin modified my life.”