Tuesday, October 22, 2013

India After Gandhi: Ramchandra Guha

After a pretty long time I am writing about a book. India After Gandhi, by Ramchandra Guha, takes us in the era, which history books in school end at. For most of us, India's history ends with Nehru's famous tryst with destiny speech and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. But, in reality India's history as a nation, begins from 1947, when her existing boundaries and shape came into being.

The book talks about all the major events that have shaped the present situations in the country since 1947.
The enormous tasks and challenges presented by the independence, partition and the British mandate to the princely states of being free to join either union or declare independence from both. The country's first cabinet faced challenges from different directions at the same time. These ranged from rehabilitation of those displaced by the partition; uniting people who were divided along all imaginable lines like religion, caste, language, territory, etc.; presenting to the country a set of rules and regulations that would govern them with fairness and most important of all, food and shelter. 

The book very nicely describes the way Nehru's cabinet negotiated through the amazingly complex maze and labyrinth. Negotiations, persuasions and debates were the only ways used in resolving almost all disputes. Guha describes the challenges faced by the constitutional assembly and the bureaucracy in turning the nation into a democratic society based on universal adult franchise. With the benefit of hindsight that we now have, the book makes us realise how fortunate we were to have leaders of the calibre of Nehru, Ambedkar, S. P. Mookerjee, J. B. Kriplani and others. Nehru's staunch belief in democratic process meant that many of his favourite ideas and views were critically debated and he was constantly ready to accommodate the concerns of the opposition too. Several proposals of his were modified and watered down but each was fiercely debated in Parliament.

The country has never been without challenges. Right from independence, there have been movements aimed at seceding from India, external invasions and internal troubles. The book talks about some of the successes and failures that the nation has seen in this regard. It also talks about the way India went on to build its economy and the push and pull from within about the direction of the development. As we read the book, we realise how leaders with strong grass root connections can actually give a good shape to discussions and debates on various issues. Of course, this has its pitfalls, like Indira Gandhi responding to the masses' disappointment with her infamous garibi hatao slogan. One of the most glaring examples of not being connected to the masses and acting on suggestions of coterie is that of Rajiv Gandhi reversing the Shah Bano judgement and then opening the locks of the Ram temple/Babri masjid in Ayodhya.

Guha also talks about the statesmanship of opposition leaders like J. B. Kriplani, A. B. Vajpayee amongst various others, which sort of makes the reader a little sad when compared to the politicians of the present. He talks of the deterioration in the democratic processes since Indira Gandhi's time, which has continued till date. Increased instances of governments trying to become more populist and trying to enforce their mandates (and views) without thorough discussion in the legislative platforms provided by the constitution. A very pertinent point, which stands out till date, was made by Nehru and is quoted in Guha's book, which sums up the democracy that we are:
 The quality of men who are selected by these modern democratic methods of adult franchise gradually deteriorates because of lack of thinking and the noise of propaganda... He [the voter] reacts to sound and to the din, he reacts to repetition and produces either a dictator or a dumb politician who is insensitive. Such a politician can stand all the din in the world and still remain standing on his two feet and, therefore, he gets selected in the end because the others have collapsed because of the din.
The book ends with the results of the 2004 elections, considering the fact that since 2004 till date it was a contemporary period for Ramchandra Guha, rather than a history. The book is a great reading for those who want to understand the country and its political and economic discourse since 1948. It definitely helps in reshaping our views about the decisions that were taken at that time, which of course continue to affect us till date.

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