Book review: Shukla Sanyal, Revolutionary Pamphlets, Propaganda and Political Culture in Colonial Bengal. New Delh: Cambridge University Press, 2014

Aritra Chakraborti


In 1905, Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, tabled a proposal for dividing Bengal into two parts. While he maintained that this partition was necessary to ease administrative burden, it enraged the Bengali bhadraloks (middle and upper middle class gentlemen, educated bourgeois) who saw this as a body-blow to their political identity.[1]. The ensuing protest, known as the Bangabhanga Andolon [A protest to (stop) the partition of Bengal. Bangabhanga, literally, means “Partition of Bengal”] also provided the ground for the emergence of extremist politics in Bengal as well as other parts of India, superseding the dominance of moderate, diplomacy-based politics of the aging Congress leadership. The young political leaders advocated the employment of more violent measures against the ruling British, and their periodicals, newspapers and pamphlets became vehicles for these subversive ideas. The result was the outburst of an armed revolutionary movement (though the British officials referred to the revolutionaries as terrorists) which marked a decisive moment in India’s nationalist politics. For a brief period, the traditionally docile Bengali educated bhadraloks rattled the very foundations of the British Empire. In her new monograph, Revolutionary Pamphlets, Propaganda and Political Culture in Colonial Bengal, Shukla Sanyal provides a fairly comprehensive insight into this period of great political turmoil in Bengal. Sanyal uses hitherto unexplored material stored at the West Bengal State Archives, the Police Museum in Kolkata and, most importantly, the little known Smaraniya Bichar Sangrahashala (Museum of Memorable Cases), located on the premises of the Alipore Session’s Court in South-Western Kolkata. Sanyal’s book provides an extensive reading of the titular propaganda pamphlets as well as leaflets and other ephemeral print media written, printed and distributed by revolutionaries and revolutionary propagandists. She also delivers an insightful commentary on the political and social conditions which led to the emergence of this propaganda culture, its wider implications as well as how the British government responded to this new transformation of the largely obedient and cooperative Bengali middle class.

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