Spodek, Howard. “PLURALIST POLITICS IN BRITISH INDIA: THE CAMBRIDGE CLUSTER OF HISTORIANS OF MODERN INDIA”, American Historical Review 1979 84(3): 688-707. ISSN: 0002-8762

Note – This article reviews the following books of the “Cambridge School” –

·          BAKER, CHRISTOPHER JOHN. The Politics of South India, 1920-1937. Cambridge, 1976.

·          BAYLY, C. A. The Local Roots of Indian Politics: Allahabad, 1880-1920. Oxford, 1975.

·          BROWN, JUDITH M. Gandhi and Civil Disobedience: The Mahatma in Indian Politics, 1928-34. Cambridge, 1977.

·                    BROWN, JUDITH M. Gandhi's Rise to Power: Indian Politics, 1915-1922. Cambridge, 1972.

·          GALLAGHER, JOHN; JOHNSON, GORDON; and SEAL, ANIL, editors. Locality, Province, and Nation: Essays on Indian Politics, 187o to 1940. Cambridge, 1973.

·          JOHNSON, GORDON. Provincial Politics and Indian Nationalism: Bombay and the Indian National Congress, 188o to 1915. Cambridge, 1973.

·          ROBINSON, FRANCIS. Separatism among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces' Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge, 1974.

·          SEAL, ANIL. The Emergence of Indian Nationalism: Competition and Collaboration in the Later Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, 1968.

·          TOMLINSON, B. R. The Indian National Congress and the Raj, 1929-1942: The Penultimate Phase. London, 1976.

·         WASHBROOK, D. A. The Emergence of Provincial Politics: The Madras Presidency, 1870-1920. Cambridge, 1976

This is an interesting systemic critique. Spodek states –

Seal's introduction to this volume, "Imperialism and Nationalism in In­dia," summarized the central outlines of the group's inquiries. It stressed "two main arguments": First, "Indian politics were an interconnected system working at several levels; and government had much to do with the linking of those levels." Second, "imperialism built a system which interlocked its rule in locality, province, and nation; nationalism emerged as a matching struc­ture of politics. Indian politics have to be studied at each and every level; none of them can be a complete field of study on its own."

‘….The mainstream of the Cambridge group has seen Indian nationalist or­ganization as inspired by the British: The matrix was British; the leadership was English-speaking and English-trained; the issues were largely set by the British; the political institutions were founded by them; and even the founda­tion of the Congress itself was inspired by the British….

‘On the positive side of the ledger are the important breakthroughs in asking new questions: on the origins of pluralist politics in modern India; on the developing pattern of linkages among local, provincial, and national political organizations as the driving force sustaining this pluralism; and on political subcontractors beginning to assume functions formerly held by local patrons. Collectively, the Cambridge group has also provided a variety of techniques for investigating these theories of linkage: statistical and ecological analysis, political sociology, prosopography, and political biography. On the negative side are a lack of rigor in testing the social science models that implicitly underlie their research; a failure to exploit materials in Indian languages; a degree of isolation from research taking place in other universities; and, too frequently, a writing style that fails to convey the drama of events. Analysis of these problems reveals an alternative emphasis to that of the Cambridge cluster—though remaining close to the factual material they present….

I PROPOSE AN ALTERNATIVE SYNTHESIS built largely on the foregoing materials but using a different perspective. An attempt to comprehend the Cambridge scholars in tandem with scholarship in Indian history elsewhere and with social science theory provides a richly suggestive mix of ideas: A modern political system—pluralist, federalist, machine-dominated--began to germi­nate in some areas of India at least as early as the 1870s. The system not only included parties based on political ideology but also comprehended issues that had previously been expressed almost solely in private lives and seg­mented communities—issues of religion and caste as well as those of govern­ance and class. A new political system had to encompass a population whose fundamental perspectives on man and God spanned the whole spectrum from beliefs in the inequality of all individuals and groups (and gods) to radical new beliefs in equality. All of these differences compounded the geographic diversity of India's people, customs, languages, and local patron-client rela­tionships. Increased communication brought all of these groups into contact for the first time and, thus, demanded new patterns for public life. How could accommodation be found? That was the central question underlying the formulation of a modern polity. The significant innovation, then, was not so much nationalism as it was secular public life…. The form and content of the new public accommodations were the subject of intense conflict….As social density increased, so, too, did the issues in conflict; more and more people found their lives—previously settled and private—now disturbed by new public activities and new ideologies. The new ideologies expressed great ferment and were accompanied by the recruiting of disciples. The ideologies were, in part, no more than pompous rhetoric and even lies, but, in part, they were attempts by more thoughtful people to put into words and programs their perceptions of the changing political, social, economic and religious realities.’