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Paul Brass' Proposal to American Institute of Indian Studies

Paul Brass' Proposal to American Institute of Indian Studies


This 1981 proposal  to the American Institute of Indian Studies captures the life work and relevance of Charan Singh in 6 brilliant pages, and is a testimony to the incisive mind of Prof. Paul Brass. He used this framework for his 1993 article on Charan Singh in the Economic and Political Weekly (, and this proposal was also the foundation of his 3 volume biography of Charan Singh published by Sage India between 2012 and 2015 (

Paul writes in 1981 " four aspects of Charan Singh’s life and political career seems to me to be especially Important. First … his political life has involved him at all levels of the Indian political system … played a central role in several of the most crucial turning points in the history of the politics of India’s largest state and that of the country as a whole. Second ... his role as spokesman for the middle peasantry. .…[he] founded the most successful agrarian party in modern Indian politics, the BKD, which later also became the central core of the opposition to Mrs Gandhi….Third … his identification with the interests of the so-called “backwards castes”. … faced a political dilemma in relation to his identification with the backwards castes, which is that his support for their aspirations has been critical in his own advancement, but that it sometimes stood in the way of his formation of viable coalitions with elite and low caste groups. Final aspect … is his role as an author of several highly original books on land reform, agriculture, and economic development in India that take a broad comparative perspective and are of theoretical interest as well to scholars of economic development … [his] most important book India’s Poverty and Its Solution (1959) is a positive statement and proposal for an economic development strategy for India based upon agricultural rather than industrial growth … is surely one of the most remarkably erudite publications ever produced by a practicing politician.”  

He closes by asking “ His political career raises the issues of whether or not a genuine agrarian movement can be built into a viable and persistent political force in the twentieth century in a developing country … whether an agrarian economic order based on small farms can be sustained against competing pressures ... for large scale commercialisation of agriculture ….”


Paul Richard Brass (born November 8, 1936) is Professor Emeritus of political science and international relations at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle, USA where he taught since 1965. After a B.A. in Government in 1958 from Harvard College, he completed his M.A. and Ph. D in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 1959 and 1964 respectively.

Paul Brass commenced his long association with India in September 1961, when he first visited and lived in Lucknow as a Doctoral student of Prof. Myron Weiner, political scientist and renowned scholar on India. This is when Paul first met Charan Singh, the then Cabinet Minister of Home and Agriculture in Uttar Pradesh. Paul’s first book (of more than 18 on India), ‘Factional Politics in an Indian State’ (1965) was based on his Doctoral thesis. This sophisticated analysis of the complex politics, and politicians, of Uttar Pradesh of the 1960s, started him on a life-long relationship with Charan Singh which saw both the men grow close to each other. Paul remains a self-confessed admirer of Charan Singh, though by no means an uncritical one. 


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