In India, gaining knowledge and scoring marks are entirely two different things. Our students feel detached and bored to a subject, because they couldn’t get enough marks. History lessons are one of those subjects, which constantly reiterated about Mughal Empire, East India Company, and British rule.
What happened to India after independence? How did we became a democratic nation? What makes democracy to still survive in India? The 893-page epic, “India After Gandhi” by Ramachandra Guha answers our quest for knowledge, about the events, thoughts and ideas that have shaped modern India.
India is a land rich in history, yet we have very few historians. Ram Guha complains that he had to struggle years for this book, because there are no biographies of many of the leading politicians of the last sixty years, the only exceptions being Gandhi, Nehru and his daughter Indira. If foreigner does not write a biography, it doesn’t get written. The great achievers, apart from politicians suffer the same fate.
A fine example is The Man Who Knew Infinity, the biography of the mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) by American Robert Kanigel. We, Indians honor Ramanujan by releasing postage stamps, but don’t seem to feel that his life needs to be recorded. This has left a huge gap to know about our political and geographical shapes. Fortunately Ram Guha’s book serves as the bridge.
“India After Gandhi” starts right from the Sepoy Mutiny days. Then, he starts recounting horrors of displacement in an inevitable and painful partition, and then Kashmir, the naga rebels and movies from various secessionist movements.
The British had left behind a curious state, without a uniform civil or criminal code. A third of India was ruled by princes who enjoyed considerable internal autonomy. In 1947 the 500-odd princely states were given the right to either accept India or Pakistan or seek independence. The integration of these princely states into India – with one glaring exception, Kashmir – was achieved much more quickly, and with less violence, than the transformation of the American colonies into the modern United States. These initial chapters, introduces us the great ‘V. P. Menon, the civil servant who masterminded the operation.
Legacy Of Nehru
The chapters that then follow gives credit to Nehru and his contribution to nation building. Guha somehow credits India’s strength to Nehru, which at times looks like a tribute. He fails to to identify Nehru’s failures in adopting a socialist stance which denied us any socioeconomic progress. However, the role of Nehru in the crisis of Kashmir, his failure to identify the alienation and disillusionment of leaders like Sheikh Abdullah, are characterized without any kind of bias.
Whatever his failings (and his ineffectiveness against government corruption was a significant failing), Guha writes, Nehru governed India as an elected leader, not as a Mughal emperor.
Hinduism and Regional Politics
Guha’s energy begins to flag when he turns to regional politics, especially about south India. He mentions which particular agitation catapulted which particular regional stalwart into prominence but can not help us make sense of the shifting coalitions and temporary administrations in which those stalwarts then played a part. Guha wrote little about Hinduism, especially about the part it played in the last thirty years.
The theories about caste or purpose of the religious fundamentalism, its pragmatic notions are not entirely left out, but it was dealt with caution.
It’s the period of history which challenges the nation’s idea of itself, in India’s case by demonstrating how thin the line is between “the world’s largest democracy” and a Third World dictatorship. Mrs. Gandhi, guided by P.N.Haksar, was merely following in her father’s footsteps. The parallel development of regional parties- which permitted India to shake off the legacy of Nehru family from being a sort of disguised One Party State- was something which the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty neither understood nor cared very deeply about nor promoted in any way.
These chapters were well handled. The legacy of India Gandhi, the way she used her power, her demise sort of has a ‘Godfather’ feel to it.
We also do not get a clear understanding of the Sri Lankan problem and how it impacts on the history of the subcontinent, not least Rajiv’s own assassination at the hands of a Tamil and its impact on the country. The comprehensive, beautifully written, well-researched, all-encompassing history book just misses out this issue.
The historic events regarding the development of constitutions, the survival of secularism, the depiction of the pain-staking first election process in the independent India, are explained in a breath-taking manner. These chapters are the one, readers might cherish. At the same time, Guha gives us the account of democracy in the present India.
Guha argues, men and women are more interested in how they can benefit from public office than in how the public can benefit from their service. One-sixth or more of candidates for elective office have criminal records, he notes. The average parliamentarian owns assets worth several hundred thousand U.S. dollars – an enormous sum in India. Almost all political parties have become family affairs, with sons and daughters inheriting seats.
The pace slackens a bit at the end with a detailed description in the field of Indian Cinema, art and culture. The “Entertainment Achievements” like Amitabh Bachchan at Tussads, might just put you off! Why should a foreign endorsement be a function of our pride?
The language is gripping, you will surely not feel like reading an old school history book. The book is available Amazon for less than $13.
Despite its mix of greatness and flaws, is it worth to read or buy the book? I’d say yes. Because, I have not found this book boring or tedious at any point, which is pretty good for any work of comprehensive history, much less that of such a huge and diverse country.
This book is of universal interest since it tells the story of how a group of incredibly diverse people have managed to remain united on the basis of a common idea of Indian. It’s hard to find the proper balance in depicting the history of diversified community. Ramachandra Guha is one of those rare skilled historians, who gives us the uplifting and enlightening account of the world’s largest democratic nation.
Guha have enumerated many obstacles to give this grand history of India, which otherwise might have been narrated by a foreigner.
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