India After Gandhi:
The History of the
World's Largest Democracy
by Ramachandra Guha
Macmillan, UK; Ecco/HarperCollins, USA
- Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi is a superb work of narrative history. In seeking to answer the mystifying question of why there is an India at all, Guha gives a mesmerizing yet coherent account of the conflicts over caste, religion, language, class, and gender that have shaped this populous nation from the earliest days of independence to the present. A magnificently researched and accessible history, India After Gandhi is a deeply informative and pleasurable read at every turn.
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. This remarkable book tells the full story—the pain and the struggle, the humiliations and the glories—of the world's largest and least likely 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.
Massively researched and elegantly written, India After Gandhi is at once a magisterial account of India's rebirth and the work of a major scholar at the height of his powers. (Source: harpercollins.com)
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.
"India needs a wise and judicious narrator to convey its scale, diversity and chaos -- to describe the whirlwind without getting lost in it. It needs a biographer neither besotted by love nor enraged by disappointment. Ramachandra Guha, a historian who has taught at Stanford and Yale and now lives in Bangalore, has given democratic India the rich, well-paced history it deserves." — Washington Post
"Guha has admirably captured the spirit of the struggling nation." — The Hindu
"[Ramachandra Guha] has written a classic study of the history of his native land since its independence, classic both in the sense that this book is destined to become one of those pivotal works of history to which all subsequent writers will have to refer and around which they will have to weave their own interpretations, but also in the sense of the tradition in which he manifestly places his work. — The Asian Review of Books
"...India after Gandhi is a brilliant and beautifully balanced book. It is impeccably researched and documented, but Guha is no dry-as-dust academic historian. He presents his facts objectively, but never hides his patriotism or cosmopolitan, Nehruvian ethos. He avoids self-congratulation and celebrates the survival of democratic India without overlooking the nation's countless failings and shortcomings." — The Independent (UK)
Read a profile of the Ramachandra Guha by author Anita Nair on her website: anitanair.net
Read a review of India After Gandhi in WaterBridge Review.
Author photo by Sujata Keshavan from sajaforum.org