This book India after Gandhi is probably first of its kind and I expect a lot of its kind to follow. This is a history book with a beginning date of 15th Aug 1947. It talks about Independent India’s history or rather the history of the county as it exists today, which was born on Aug 15, 1947. It talks about the pain of being born and pain of separation. Talks about the strong foundations laid during infancy that gave it the character that became its identity. It talks about the turbulent adolescence when the ‘me first’ attitude prevailed. And it talks about an approaching adulthood when it is ready to take on the responsibilities that await it both from inside and the outside world.
The book India after Gandhi comprehensively brings out a lot of facts that you have heard or known. But may not have known or comprehended as a single story. It also brings about a few backdoor stories which may not be in public domain or at least not popularly public. It takes a look at various eras that India as a country saw since independence. Various influences, various decisions and people who either wrote or played a significant part in weaving the destiny and history of this country. History of first four decades has been described chronologically. What is particularly interesting is that author has tried to provide the views of all the parties involved in most of the cases that kind of leaves you to decide whichever you choose to ally with.
For the last two decades, the author has chosen few themes and wrote along those themes. And this is the period most of us really know. And probably have an opinion on and hence you may not find it as interesting.
For me, the most important chapters were the ones describing how Patel helped by Menon, managed to form current India by convincing all the princes to join in. And how he actually used different strategies to deal with each of them, a la Sam, Daam, Dand, Bhed… It is also interesting to read about the states which resisted and why and how they finally agreed to merge. The states which could not decide which of the newly formed states they should join. The chapter on languages is also interesting and how it is ultimately an entertainment industry which could bring in the acceptance of intended national language in a subtle way. The emergence of Indira Gandhi as a leader and an autocrat is well captured and described; her influence on the Indian politics that permanently changed the ways of politics in the country.
Throughout the book India after Gandhi, there are two themes that flow across. One is the obvious issue of Kashmir, which had always been a concern for India since day 1 of independent India. At regular intervals, the book keeps going back to Kashmir. The second one is more interesting. It talks about how everyone around the world kept predicting the end of India, its disintegration, an army rule and various partitions. But there is something that kept it together. Every big crisis in the country made the world think that its time the country would shatter. But it came back, stronger most of the times. It is in the recent economic boom in India that people have stopped predicting its end.
In fact, the author begins the book by quoting Ghalib’ kucch baat hai ki hasti mitati nahi hamari, sadiyon raha hai dushman daur-e-jahan hamara’. And it may not be a mere co-incident that Delhi was home to the poet.
At one level book looks like a collage of the press throughout the period it describes. If you had the patience to go through what press and journalists around the world wrote about India, its leaders and its policies and strategies, you could have written this book. With some basic skill in logically organizing this book. But having said this, and looking at the references section of the book, you can imagine the amount of research/reading that would have gone into compiling the book. It is a mammoth book to read with 800 odd pages. But at the same time as you read, you also want the author to go deep into each of the chapters.
Like I said before, at times it gives the impression of going through the news clipping of the period being described. And you end up wanting more analysis and a deeper view of the issues and questions at hand. But probably one book is not enough to describe such a vast and diverse history with so many perspectives.
As I was reading this book India after Gandhi, I came across this quote by Edward Gibbon “History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind”. And this book also conforms to this… I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of modern India.
Buy this book – India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha at Amazon India.