Book review: Ramchandra Guha, India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

Date01 June 2018
Published date01 June 2018
Subject MatterBook Reviews
314 Book Reviews
Ramchandra Guha, India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest
Democracy. New Delhi: Picador India, 2017, 10th Anniversary Edition.
XXXV + 919 pp., `799.
This is an updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition of Ramchandra Guha’s
widely read popular political history of Indian politics since Gandhi. Guha is an
environmental historian-turned-political historian with vision of a historian but
lacking in full appurtenances of the craft of a historian, which is partly limited by
his epic ambition to cover everything hanging on the linear string of the contem-
porary time.
Already a voluminous book, the second edition has substantial additions, that
is, a new Preface (xiii–xvii), Chapter 30 entitled ‘The Rise of the “BJP Systems”’
(pp. 719–750), and the ‘Epilogue’ called ‘A 50–50 Democracy’ (pp. 750–786).
Some parts of the old chapters have also been retouched. He has reorganised
Section Five called ‘A History of Events’, making it chronological from its earlier
thematic treatment. This is perhaps in line with the intention of the publisher to
get an epic chronicle written by the author who admits, ‘this book was not my
idea’ (p. xiii).
The ‘Prologue’ offers insightful and analytical hypotheses of India being an
‘unnatural nation’ and an improbable democracy. Guha writes:
There were, of course, British politicians and thinkers who welcomed Indian self-rule
and, in their own way, aided its coming into being. (One of the prime movers of the
Indian National Congress was a colonial official of Scottish parentage, A.O. Hume.)
Yet there were many others who argued that unlike France, or Germany or Italy, there
was no national essence, no glue to bind the people and take them purposively forward.
(p. XXXIV)
On the pages that follow, the author continues with the same theme:
Ever since the country was formed there have also been many Indians who have seen
the survival of India as being on the line, some (the patriots) speaking or writing in
fear, others (the secessionists or revolutionaries) with anticipation. Like their foreign
counterparts, they have come to believe that this place is too diverse to persist as a
nation, and much too poor to endure as a democracy. (p. XXV)
I am amazed at the lack of historical, rather comparative historical, imagination
even in the postcolonial generation of Indians. The Eurocentric colonial mindset
is so deeply ingrained that the most natural historical instances that can help to
understand the national consciousness and nation formation in India do not easily
come to their minds. This historical myopia acts as a blinder to more comparable
national states with India, and they get tethered to the unitary and/or monolingual
nation states which are the modal category in Europe, barring a few exceptions.
(For conceptual differentiation between ‘national state’ and ‘nation state’, see
Oommen, 2007.) He writes:

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