India after Gandhi is my first major book on Indian history, particularly, post independence, modern history. To be frank, given my slightly, the so-called right-wing inclinations Ramchandra Guha was an unlikely candidate. Before picking up this book I had read lots of negative things about the author on Twitter and various blogs and it was one of these blogs that I read something and this further prompted me to buy the book.
Another reason why I bought this book is that, since almost all my books these days are from Amazon Kindle it is very easy to buy books for me now. All I have to do is go to Amazon.com, search for the title and click the “buy” button, it’s as simple as that. In fact, this was a big reason why I bought this book and now that I had spent money on it, even when at certain stages my existing knowledge contradicted with his opinions, I was compelled to read it (I do that). And besides, that’s why one reads, to learn, not to reconfirm something one already knows.
For a good review, I think it is better to take down notes, which I didn’t, so you cannot call it a detailed analysis. I’m only going to talk about things that I liked and disliked.
He writes well. His writing literally took me to those early days of independence – 50s, 60s and 70s – and it was revealing to read about all those great personalities that shaped or messed up (mostly messed up, even he agrees) with India’s destiny. Ramchandra Guha loves Jawaharlal Nehru although he thinks his idealism and lack of vision immensely harmed the country. Jawaharlal Nehru had no idea of what he was doing in most of the decisions that he took were based on his emotional inclinations and an over consciousness for its international image.
Ramchandra Guha has to concede unwillingly that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was a great statesmen, thinker and administrator and Nehru caused the nation immense harm by not heeding to many of his advises.
Ramchandra Guha seems to nurture an inveterate disliking to everything Hindu. That’s why, no matter how able a person is, if he or she has a soft corner for a Hindu way of life, he or she either gets a passing reference or a condescending tone. And I’m not saying this because just above I said that I have rightist leanings, it is actually manifest the way he writes and represents historical facts. For example, Aurangzeb is mentioned as “the great Mughal” but Shivaji and Maha Rana Pratap are referred to as mediaeval Hindu warriors. This is just one reference. There were many. I could see that as a writer. If I had to show my tilting without getting too obvious, I would use innuendos and subtle adjectives, the way he has copiously done.
In his effort to demonize Hindus he repeatedly says that in every major Hindu Muslim riot Muslims were the main sufferers. Their women were always being abducted. Their shops were always being vandalised and burned by their Hindu neighbours. Their properties were always being usurped. They were primarily reacting to Hindu atrocities. Even during partition it were mostly Hindus and Sikhs who targeted Muslims and consequently in many areas they had to suffer as Muslims reacted. The moot point is, they were always at the receiving end whenever there was a communal tension.
Frankly, I would have believed him — after all Hindus are the majority and when they decide, they can give competition to any other race when it comes to inflicting barbarity. I have experienced the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in which no Hindu was killed but more than 3000 Sikhs died.
But that was because the Sikhs were caught off guard and it was an out and out Congress-sponsored revanchist pogrom, which is normally not the case with Muslims. Visit a Muslim majority area (even in Delhi) and you can feel a simmering fire even in a normal moving crowd. And this is not something that I have read, I have experienced it firsthand. So, not to make the matter of communal strife light, they are always ready for a good old bout of rioting and fighting.
Then of course there is this Arun Shourie book that I’m reading that cites many instances where Hindus were targeted by the Muslims at slightest provocation. He has also printed a somewhat angry letter from Gandhiji to one of the Ali Brothers in which he has lamented the way Hindus had been targeted during a particular riot and on top of that they were being blamed for the violence. Although the mainstream media doesn’t cover such reports, Hindus are not allowed to celebrate their festivals in Muslim majority areas.
There is another instance of history he writes about in detail: the formulation and implementation of the uniform civil code. Whereas at length he talks about how the Hindu Maha Sabha opposed the act first because it conflicted with the age-old Hindu traditions and then because it was not incumbent upon Muslims to follow the same law. He rightfully says that the traditional Hindu laws were archaic and they were meant to marginalise women and other sections of the society, but when it comes to Muslims opposing the law and insisting upon their own law — Sharia — he simply says that (without using adjectives and innuendos) the political leadership of that time thought Muslims were not ready to accept the uniform civil code and hence they will not be forced. That’s it.
He tries to follow a humorous, condescending tone whenever he’s talking about Hindu or non-Nehru events and persons but when he talks about Muslims and Nehru his tone totally changes, even though he accepts that Nehru was one of the lousiest leaders India could have had.
Ramchandra Guha seems to have written this book for an international, primary western audience. I don’t know much about him, what he does and how he earns his living, but many authors write such books so that they are invited by left-leaning foreign universities and institutions for talks and grants. These sorts of books can also give you access to “prestigious” publications that are dominated by people of a certain ideology.
When you’re reading non-fiction to educate yourself it is always better to refer to multiple sources, preferably opposing sources. That’s why I’ve decided to read Ramchandra Guha, Arun Shourie and Kuldeep Nayar at quick succession so that I can have different perspectives, no matter how biased they are. Given a choice between believing Ramchandra Guha and Arun Shourie without even blinking an eye I will choose Mr. Shourie, but as a reading experience, all sorts of writers must be read, so you should go ahead and read India after Gandhi, if nothing else, then just for a quick recap of all the things that have been happening since 1947.