Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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India After Gandhi – By Ramachandra Guha — A book review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 5, 2007

I read Ramachandra Guha’s “India after Gandhi” with interest. Without a debate, it is a whale of a book for its sheer size  and a fascinating record of modern Indian history replete with facts, quotes, anecdotes and analysis. Guha starts with an assertion that history of modern India stops after 1947 and hence a need for a book like his — which I think is utterly true

Contemporary history for a lot of people belonging to our generation unfortunately is wrapped in a permanent sense of amnesia and this gives birth to a very peculiar problem: that of leading us away from having empathetic and considered views on the state of very many things around us as they manifest to us. This is partly because of our lack of interest and also partly because of non availability of distilled and easily accessible record of history. A direct consequence of this is that we are frustrated and become judgmental on a whole range of issues. Especially questions like why are we so poor as a country? why have we embraced secularism? why do we have a public sector? why is our education system the way it is? why have politics as practiced in our country descended to gutter level and never ever show a sign of hope of taking a turn for the better? what impulses drove the making of our constitution? why did we proclaim a non aligned policy in the realm of international relations?…. and many more of this ilk beg  considered answers. One needs to have a credible historical context to understand them. However, that crucial historical context and the ups and downs in the progress of modern Indian history are not structured in our minds to be referenced readily. This book does a great job of stacking it up extremely well for folks interested in exploring these areas and understand the gradual unfolding of our modern history.

That it took nine years of hard work indicates that is a wonderful product of a gritty labour of love.

On a personal level, the real brush with events that have been narrated in the book commence with a vague remembrance of me going along with my father to a meeting called for by Janata Party in Warangal to see Morarji Desai. My sense was just limited to the fact that there was a massive change in the political arena of the country but did not know what exactly it was. I remember people talking about “Emergency” and that police could beat you up or arrest you without any rhyme or reason. They confirm that it was so in those days for a brief while. But that’s a deviation from the subject at hand. 

Books among other things should also lead one to more books. “India after Gandhi” does that swimmingly well. It satisified my intellectual hunger in one area even while arousing it in multiple other areas. For example now I am curious and ready to read Granville Austin’s books on making and workings of Indian Constituition, S.Gopal’s biography of Nehru and also know more about some stellar national leaders and bureauacrats who have laid the foundations of Modern India — I especially want to know more about Sukumar Sen — the first Chief Election Commissioner of Independent India, Sardar Tarlochan Singh — the man who oversaw resettlements in Punjab after partition, PK Menon — the man who managed to annex nearly 500+ princely states into India after Independence etc. These were men of great energy, integrity and genuine desire to build a newly born nation. A race that is sadly unsung, forgotton and extinct.

It might not be an exaggeration to say that the history of modern India in some sense has largely been defined by Nehru. Nehru’s role, vision and approach still reverberates even after decades of his absence from the scene.  This book ensured that my respect for Nehru has risen manifold and I would not hesitate to rank him among the greatest of visionaries, humanitarians and nation builders this planet has seen — despite the trying and delicate circumstances he was in on the one hand combined with his own shortcomings and mistakes on the other.

A couple of years ago I had read Sunil Khlinani’s – Idea of India – and was dazzled by his grasp of various aspects of Indian history and the narrative style. The narrative style employed in this book — especially dovetailing quotations from various people as a matter of fact — make it quite enjoyable and gives one a feel for the pulse of things that existed then and constantly reminded me of Khilnani’s work. The riotously funny Shashi Tharoor’s “The Great Indian Novel” — also has started making much more sense than it did when I first read it

Books as they say are not meant for decoration, but unintentionally they are the best decorable things that one can have.  This book – in my opinion – will remain one of the most authoritative introductions to modern Indian history and I am sure will find a permanent place in the bookshelves of many a serious and curious readers all across India if not  all the indophiles across the world. To borrow a phrase from a dated issue of illustrated weekly – “India After Gandhi” is at once “eclectic, prophylactic and didactic”
I strongly urge you to read it.

One Response to “India After Gandhi – By Ramachandra Guha — A book review”

  1. Dipu Shaw said

    I completely agree to you. The very fact that the book satisfies your and many others’ (including myself) intellectual hunger and at the same time leaves them craving for more speaks volumes about the compilation. The quotes as pointed out by you compliments the author’s analysis also giving it a touch of authenticity and experience.

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