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Incarnations - India in 50 Lives

Incarnations - India in 50 Lives

Published by
Penguin Random House UK
Written by
Khilnani, Sunil. Extract

Charan Singh: A Common Cause
Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

Professor Sunil Khilnani explores the life and legacy of Charan Singh, the lawyer turned politician who championed the cause of India's farmers. Singh is remembered today as the politician who took on Indira Gandhi in the Congress Party's heartland state. Uttar Pradesh. He redistributed power and altered the social structure of Northwest India, non-violently. And he helped the world see the potential of the Indian farmer a bit more clearly. He succeeded in becoming India's first peasant prime minister but went from the highest office in a flash, replaced by his nemesis Indira Gandhi. Although today he is most often remembered for being a leader of his own caste, Professor Khilnani argues that Charan Singh has a unique status in Indian history. 

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Incarnations: India In 50 Lives - Charan Singh A Common Cause (Audio)

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Sunil Khilnani, a Professor of Politics and Director of the King's College, London India Institute, published "Incarnations: India in 50 Lives” in February 2016 on unusual Indians - from ancient to modern time. One of these 50 outstanding children of India is Charan Singh……."In a series of short chapters [Sunil] describes what makes them so surprising, curious or important. These are not simply history lessons, but stories rooted in today's India, as Khilnani goes on a quest across contemporary India to find the living traces of these extraordinary individuals.”


CSA Comment: We are absolutely delighted that a reputed scholar of Indian politics and society has identified Charan Singh as one of the most extraordinary Indians of all time. The chapter acknowledges many unique aspects of Charan Singh’s politics and life’s work, specially his landmark contribution to India by abolishing landlordism in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. It is a fluently and yet simply written story.

Nevertheless, we respectfully disagree with some aspects of Prof Khilnani’s valuable work. Our first issue is with the portrayal of Charan Singh as a ‘leader of his own caste’ not of the peasants as a class, and not as a visionary holistic thinker representing rural India of all castes as we believe him to be. Second, there is inadequate focus in this audio chapter on Charan Singh’s intellect - as the author of many scholarly books and sophisticated political party manifestoes that mirrored his deep understanding of India’s political economy and provided startlingly different solutions to India’s problems of inequality from communism, or (corporate and state) capitalism. Third, we don’t hear about Charan Singh extraordinary character - his deep sense of morality, the highest levels of personal integrity, and his asceticism in daily life while practicing the politics to gain power. And finally, not enough about his Gandhian thinking where he wanted the Indian state to invest massively in the rural areas in agriculture as well as in alternate employment in handlooms, handicrafts, small village enterprises, and small industry.