Book Review: "The State and Governance in India: The Congress Ideal"

William Kuracina, Routledge, 2009

-Ian Wilson, PhD Candidate in Anthropology

William Kuracina, a 2008 PhD recipient in History from Syracuse, has recently published a monograph, “The State and Governance in India: The Congress Ideal,” which is based upon and expanded from his doctoral dissertation. The book, which appeared in 2010, is the eighth title in the Routledge series Studies in South Asian History. In this book, Kuracina enters into and contributes to significant debates concerning the foundation and development of the post-colonial Indian state. Taking a position critical of both the prominent Subaltern Studies and Cambridge School perspectives, focusing, respectively, upon ‘the historic failure of the nation to come into its own,' or ‘the Congress's transformation into the Raj,’ Kuracina attempts to ‘holistically investigate’ Congress policies and activities in the 1930s in order to consider the intent and vision of prominent actors in the Congress and ‘what might have been.’

In particular, Kuracina reconsiders the Congress's cooperation with and resistance to the British Raj, and towards these ends he focuses upon the Congress's attempts during the 1930s to lay a foundation for a strong and centralized post-colonial state through the development of a parallel government and an indigenous governmentality. To undertake this ambitious rethinking of the pre-Independence Congress, Kuracina focuses upon the individuals who were members of the Congress Working Committee, the powerful executive Council of the Congress, and their efforts to frame issues of national concern, to formulate policies and plans for forwarding the national cause, and to develop a democratic national state. Within the five core chapters of the monograph, Kuricina considers the forming of a parallel state by addressing Congress concerns with and efforts to address the issues of democracy and civil liberties, foreign affairs, national economic development and planning, the forming of a federal state, and national defense.

Amongst these five strands in the creation of a parallel state, Kuracina's treatment of Congress leaders' involvement in foreign affairs and national economic planning are quite striking and clearly present the foundation for his larger argument. Concerning the former, Kuracina presents the pre-Independence Congress attempts, led by Bose and Nehru. These efforts included both presenting the Indian situation abroad as well as formulating a nationally-based foreign-policy outlook instead of a London-based one and formulating positions on international issues and in regard to other nations. Concerning the latter, Kuracina considers the discussions within both the Congress Working Committee and Provincial Congress Committees to collect extensive data on agriculture, industry and poverty in order to attempt to formulate a parallel administrative structure and policies that could be drawn upon after Independence for national economic development. Kuracina through engaging the efforts of and debates among Congress leaders in these two areas as well as others is able to bring out the complexity of Congress undertakings in the decades before Independence and draw attention to the centrality of the formation of a distinctly Indian parallel government oriented towards not only independence but a broader national interest.

Kuracina's monograph, based upon extensive research in British and Congress official reports and statements as well as Congress leaders' speeches, correspondence, and private papers, succeeds in offering important new insights into the aspirations and visions of the Congress leadership and their political, policy, and administrative undertakings.