India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha: A Review


My Tryst With India’s Contemporary History

For the last couple of years the political scenario in India has been in a constant state of flux and one can with reason enough blame it either on the corrupt deeds of the incumbent government or on the sudden awakening of the bourgeois. And with the much-speculated general elections just around the corner, we are soon going to witness the crescendo to this political saga.

Now, like most people even I take general interest in the political state of affairs of the country, but am unable to make sense of the things that are discussed in national debates. The reason being that I have only been educated with India’s ancient past and it’s freedom struggle against the British and am unaware of what happened post-independence till the time I became sane enough to understand the P of Politics i.e. in the early years of the 21st century.

This lack of knowledge often makes me wonder about things like—was the Congress always this corrupt, how did the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) come into being, or for that matter how did the Congress of independent India become such a behemoth, what was their ideology, why is the BJP always associated with Hinduism, what is the genesis of the Kashmir issue, why do Sikhs resent the Congress and so on and so forth.

Seeking answers to all these questions and on a friend’s suggestion, I picked up the mammoth read India After Gandhi by the much-celebrated historian and political commentator, Ramachandra Guha.

Being a fiction lover, who never laid hands on any non-fiction book, I can say that the imposing size of the book might be an initial deterrent for those who belong to the same clan. But if you can drive yourself past the initial hesitation then you will be rewarded with a compelling read which is no less interesting than a good fiction novel.  Well, it has to be, because it is the history of the world’s largest democracy. And before you consider me a champ, let me tell you that I have read only a quarter of the book. But even that was enough to make me gape in awe and amazement at the resilience of my country, and the tenacity of people like Nehru and Sardar Patel who built our nation from scratch.

I have a newly found respect for India and for these men because according to so many historians and sociologists, the survival of India as a democracy is a miracle in itself. The reason being, with such diversity that is characterized by so many different cultures and traditions, India is a country that comprises of many small countries within itself.  These factions have converging and diverging interests, which either bring them together or pull them apart.  Therefore the mighty task since independence has been to keep these factions together, which according to the rationale of the sociologists was a near impossible task, but over the years India has managed to successfully accomplish it.

See I have learnt so much despite having read only about 200 pages of the book.

I now know about the carnage of Partition, the influx of the refugees and the gigantic problem of their resettlement that followed.  I  am also aware of the unsung national heroes like VK Menon, who along with Sardar Patel played a vital role in the negotiation with 550 princely states to accede to India.

Talking of princely states, the genesis of the Kashmir issue also became clear to me. In addition to that I have developed a liking for Nehru because he was a true patriot, who believed in moral politics, who was against communalism and did everything he could to maintain unity and harmony in India.

I now know for sure that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has always been since its inception a political irritant and demanded nothing but a Hindu state with complete disregard to the interest of the minorities.

The most surprising part of the 200 pages that I read was I got to know about the genesis of the statement hindi chini bhai bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers) and the unsteady footing of the India and China friendship.

The Non Aligned Movement, spearheaded by Nehru during the Cold War and his foreign policy with respect to the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Russia, Pakistan and China is also discussed at length.

Besides that the book also discusses the demand for states on linguistic lines by various groups, the formation of a State Reorganization Committee (SRC) and the formation of present day Andhra from the previous known state of Madras.

The penning down of the world’s lengthiest Constitution and the first General Elections of 1952 where the Congress won hands down crushing its critics by a heavy margin is also discussed by Mr. Guha.

So saying very succinctly, I am hooked onto this book.

And I think everybody who is interested in knowing about India’s journey from being a poor colony of the British to becoming a force to be reckoned with should definitely read India After Gandhi.

Ritika Rastogi

Have you read Guha’s work? What do you have to say about it? Write your opinions in the comment box below.

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