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India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy

India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy

Born against a background of privation and civil war, divided along lines of caste, class, language and religion, independent India emerged, somehow, as a united and democratic country. Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, published by Harper Collins, a remarkable book, tells the full story—the pain and the struggle, the humiliations and the glories—of the world's largest democracy.

Ramachandra Guha writes compellingly of the myriad protests and conflicts that have peppered the history of free India. But he writes also of the factors and processes that have kept the country together (and kept it democratic), defying numerous prophets of doom who believed that its poverty and heterogeneity would force India to break up or come under autocratic rule. Once the Western world looked upon India with a mixture of pity and contempt; now it looks upon India with fear and admiration.

Moving between history and biography, this story of modern India is peopled with extraordinary characters. Guha gives fresh insights on the lives and public careers of those long-serving prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. There are vivid sketches of the major "provincial" leaders whose province was as large as a European country: the Kashmiri rebel turned ruler Sheikh Abdullah; the Tamil film actor turned politician M. G. Rama-chandran; the Naga secessionist leader Angami Zapu Phizo; the socialist activist Jayaprakash Narayan. But the book also writes with feeling and sensitivity about lesser known (though not necessarily less important) Indians—peasants, tribals, women, workers and musicians.

Guha pays detailed attention to metropolitan politics in Delhi, yet provides discussion of regions such as Keralan and Tamil political history. There is an emphasis on political history within Guha's study; however this interest is developed in the broadest sense. The struggles of indigenous peoples in Central India and in the North East of the subcontinent are accessibly presented. The Naga peoples of the North Eastern frontier feature prominently.

A further strength of Guha's book is his discussion of foreign affairs. As might be expected a great deal of attention is given to India/ Pakistan relations (specifically through the Kashmir question) and this is handled well. Guha is attentive too India's situation between superpowers during the Cold War. Washington-Delhi relations are amply covered, as are both Soviet and Sino- Indian affairs.

Guha closes his historical narrative with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and covers the very recent past in a series of thematic essays. These essays read rather differently to the synthesis performed so well throughout the earlier stages of this book yet contain much information about topics as diverse as communal conflict, economic liberalization and public health. Guha places these contemporary thematic discussions in a long term perspective. For those who wish to pursue these themes in greater depth a detailed bibliography is provided. Overall, this book offers an extremely useful and readable account of post-1947 Indian history.

The book is very engaging and informative.According to Guha, India's journey in the last sixty years could be described as a journey between two books: from Katherine Mayo's "Mother India" (dismissed by Mahatma Gandhi as a drain inspector's report) to Thomas Friedman's "The World is flat" (with adulations about a confident and growing economy). The journey has several good and bad milestones:

Guha admires India's continued democratic lean, especially its ability and resourcefulness in holding elections. India's multi-lingual democracy is favorably contrasted against countries that have viewed linguistic differences as an opportunity to secede. His bravest views are against the horrible politically motivated pogroms against the Sikhs in Delhi and the Muslims in Godhra. It is refreshing to see this point of view coming from within (ie, an Indian) not that India's `free press' has been afraid of voicing its opinion, just not as clearly as Guha does. Kashmir is given 'fair' treatment in that, it is the unfortunate Kashmiri (both Hindu and Muslim) who has been been caught in a wider struggle that included British, American, Soviet and Chinese interests at the time of partition itself. Guha clearly shows that for very different reasons, neither India nor Pakistan have fared well.

Ramachandra Guha's book has been described by experts as a bold attempt at revisiting the major ups and downs, albeit mainly in the political sphere, that independent India has had to endure during the last 60 years of freedom..

Ramachandra Guha was born in Dehradun in 1958 and educated in Delhi and Calcutta. He has taught at the universities of Oslo, Stanford and Yale, and at the Indian Institute of Science. He has been a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and also served as the Indo-American Community Chair Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. After a peripatetic academic career, with five jobs in ten years on three continents, Guha settled down to become a full-time writer, based in Bangalore. His books cover a wide range of themes, including a global history of environmentalism, a biography of an anthropologist-activist, a social history of Indian cricket, and a social history of Himalayan peasants. His entire career, he says, seems in retrospect to have been an extended (and painful) preparation for the writing of India After Gandhi. Guha's books and essays have been translated into more than twenty languages. The prizes they have won include the UK Cricket Society's Literary Award and the Leopold-Hidy Prize of the American Society of Environmental History. His other books include A Corner of a Foreign Field and The Last Liberal and Other Essays.