Review Of Books/India after Gandhi
‘INDIA AFTER GANDHI’
THE GRAND SAGA OF INDEPENDENT INDIA
A Book Review
By Sarve daman mishra Govt. College, Ajmer.
“INDIA AFTER GANDHI:THE HISTORY OF WORLD’S LARGEST DEMOCRECY” BY RAMACHANDRA GUHA Published By Picador; 950 pages; Rs695 Few months ago William Dalrymple commented in a news magazine that Indian historians write for their own consumption, not for universal purpose. That is why historians and history writing are fading out from public domain in India. (Interestingly William commented while talking about his much acclaimed work: THE LAST MUGHAL) Although a notable Indian historian vehemently opposed the comment but for our delight ,the real rebuttal came in the form of a mammoth work on contemporary India: “INDIA AFTER GANDHI; THE HISTORY OF WORLD’S LARGEST DEMOCRACY” by renowned historian Ramachandra Guha.
Ramachandra Guha is one of the most distinguished historians of our time. A prolific writer who left his prominent academic career for full time research and writing. He is prolific in both senses- quantity and quality. His areas of interest are not confined to a particular period of history but he represents that endangered species of intellectuals whose intellectual domain covers a wide range of issues, diverse and disparate and that too , authoritatively. Though most of his earliest writings related themselves to environmental history like the much popular THE UNQUITE WOODS , he also wrote on the quintessential Indian sport: cricket. Infact he wrote history of Indian Cricket with a new dimension (A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD). He is undoubtedly a good biographer too , as proved by his writing over Verrier Elwine (SAVING THE CIVILISED). It seems that all his earlier writings were merely the preparation of his latest and in a way monumental work which told history of almost everything related to post independent India with amazing detail and depth.
Contemporary India is a subject which has not been touched upon by historians until now. Although in recent years we have seen some fine work on post independent Indian society and politics such as Sunil Khilnani’s ‘IDEA OF INDIA’ but these works lack a holistic view of post independent India. In contrast, Guha’s book covers the entire spectrum of Indian events and happenings; right from famines to films; from difficulties to delights and so on. Though the theme is predominantly political, Guha is able to attempt and attain a fine balance, while covering almost everything India traversed from c.1947 to c.1989.As he told in an interview , it took him nearly eight years from start to finish to compile his research and more than two years to work out the chapter scheme itself. The book is divided into five parts. The first part -Picking Up The Pieces- tells the story of the painful partition and euphoric nation building. It also covers the story of Kashmir in greater depth. Part two ,typical to its nomenclature –Nehru’s India- tells vividly about the role and contribution of a visionary prime minister in the figure of Nehru . Part third mostly discusses the problems India faced in the infancy of its democracy; Chinese aggression was the severest among them. Here it is quite interesting to know it was only America who came forward to assist India. Neither Russia nor any other socialist block country were anywhere close to being reliable allies despite Nehru’s proclivity towards the socialist block . Kashmir problem has also been discussed again but with a new dimension. Guha revisited the events of April-May ‘64, when, according to him, Sheikh Abdullah with the full support of Nehru was very close to working out an honorable settlement which could have been acceptable for both India and Pakistan . In May ‘64 Abdullah went to Pak on his lifetime mission but Nehru died meanwhile, leaving all efforts in disarray.
Part four- The Rise Of Populism- basically discusses the politics of Mrs. Gandhi and it’s consequences . One of the most important consequences was the formation of first non Cong. Government at the Center i.e. the Janta government. Here Guha makes an interesting remark; according to him the most important contribution of otherwise failed Janta government was the mending / healing of constitution which was seriously damaged in the authoritarian regime of Mrs. Gandhi.
Fifth and the last part talks about various trends as have been apparent in the last two decades.In all , the book does not disappoint but rather provides some remarkable insights like the rise of regional political parties, caste based politics, end of the single party hegemony etc. and their being a mixed blessing.Though they strengthened and deepened our democracy they have also taken away the consistency from our public policies and delivered governance a serious blow in the process..
There is also an epilogue –Why India Survives- which makes for an interesting analysis and which most Indians and more so non – Indians would like to know.
Right from the early twentieth century doomsayers have doubted not only the survival of India as a single nation but as a vibrant democracy too.. Europeans, habitual to live in a homogeneous cultural environment, were skeptical about the resilience of an extremely diverse country like India. At various points of time in last century, so called western thinkers such as Churchill,Gen.Auchinleck,Huxley etc. have doubted and predicted that India would not survive as a nation after independence. But after six decades of independence India not only survives as nation but as a bubbling, successful democracy too! As Guha observes, India is quite a unique nation, it does not have any visible unifying factor or any kind of commonness (such as language, race, religion etc.) among its citizens. On the contrary we have so many languages, diverse religious faiths and at least four to five racial lineages. Guha wonders about this multiplicity and than rightly concludes that the liberal tradition of acceptance of dissension and diversity is the key of India’s survival not only as a modern nation state but as the largest surviving ancient civilization too!
Recently, two scholars of different traditions have also expressed the same analysis. Amartya sen in Argumentative Indian and Mark Tully in India’s Unending Journey pointed out that Indian tradition never accepted dogmatic certainty and that is how it created a tolerant milieu for different traditions.
india After Gandhi is quite a readable book, not only for experts and scholars but for general readers too. I hope Guha’s tour de force will generate fresh interest of historians in contemporary India.