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Amagisterial account of the pains, the struggles, the humiliations, and the glories of the world's largest and least likely democracy, Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi is a breathtaking chronicle of the brutal conflicts that have rocked a giant nation and the extraordinary factors that have held it together. An intricately researched and elegantly written epic history peopled with larger-than-life characters, it is the work of a major scholar at the peak of his abilities....
Amagisterial account of the pains, the struggles, the humiliations, and the glories of the world's largest and least likely democracy, Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi is a breathtaking chronicle of the brutal conflicts that have rocked a giant nation and the extraordinary factors that have held it together. An intricately researched and elegantly written epic history peopled with larger-than-life characters, it is the work of a major scholar at the peak of his abilities.
India is the country that was never expected to ever be a country. In the late 19th century, Sir John Strachey, a senior British official, grandly opined that the territory's diverse states simply could not possess "any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious." Strachey, clearly, was wrong: India today is a unified entity and a rising global power. Even so, it continues to defy explanation. "India's existence," says Guha, an internationally known scholar (Environmentalism: A Global History), "has also been an anomaly for academic political science, according to whose axioms cultural heterogeneity and poverty do not make a nation, still less a democratic one." Yet India continues to exist. Guha's aim in this startlingly ambitious political, cultural and social survey is to explain why and how. He cheerfully concludes that India's continuing existence results from its unique diversity and its refusal to be pigeonholed into such conventional political models as Anglo-American liberalism, French republicanism, atheistic communism or Islamist theocracy. India is proudly sui generis, and with August 15, 2007, being the 60th anniversary of Indian independence, Guha's magisterial history of India since that day comes not a moment too soon. 32 pages of b&w illus., 8 maps. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Freedom and Parricide
The disappearance of the British Raj in India is at present, and must for a long time be, simply inconceivable. That it should be replaced by a native Government or Governments is the wildest of wild dreams. . . . As soon as the last British soldier sailed from Bombay or Karachi, India would become the battlefield of antagonistic racial and religious forces . . . [and] the peaceful and progressive civilisation, which Great Britain has slowly but surely brought into India, would shrivel up in a night.
J. E. Welldon, former bishop of Calcutta, writing in 1915
I have no doubt that if British governments had been prepared to grant in 1900 what they refused in 1900 but granted in 1920; or to grant in 1920 what they refused in 1920 but granted in 1940; or to grant in 1940 what they refused in 1940 but granted in 1947—then nine-tenths of the misery, hatred, and violence, the imprisonings and terrorism, the murders, flogging, shootings, assassinations, even the racial massacres would have been avoided; the transference of power might well have been accomplished peacefully, even possibly withoutPartition.
Leonard Woolf, writing in 1967
If freedom came to India on 15 August 1947, but patriotic Indians had celebrated their first "Independence Day" seventeen years before. In the first week of January 1930, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution fixing the last Sunday of the month for countrywide demonstrations in support of purna swaraj, or complete independence. This, it was felt, would both stoke nationalist aspirations and force the British to seriously consider giving up power. In an essay in his journal Young India, Mahatma Gandhi set out how the day should be observed: "It would be good if the declaration [of independence] is made by whole villages, whole cities even. . . . It would be well if all the meetings were held at the identical minute in all the places."
Gandhi suggested that the time of the meeting be advertised in the traditional way, by drumbeats. The celebrations would begin with the raising of the national flag. The rest of the day would be spent "in doing some constructive work, whether it is spinning, or service of 'untouchables,' or reunion of Hindus and Mussalmans, or prohibition work, or even all these together, which is not impossible." Participants would take a pledge affirming that it was "the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil," and that "if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or abolish it."1
The resolution to mark the last Sunday of January as independence Day was passed in the city of Lahore, where the Congress was holding its annual session. It was here that Jawaharlal Nehru was chosen president of the Congress, in confirmation of his rapidly rising status within the Indian national movement. Nehru was born in 1889, twenty years after Gandhi, was a product of Harrow and Cambridge, and had become a close protégé of the Mahatma. He was intelligent and articulate, knowledgeable about foreign affairs, and particularly appealing to the young.
In his autobiography, Nehru recalled how "independence Day came, January 26th, 1930, and it revealed to us, as in a flash, the earnest and enthusiastic mood of the country. There was something vastly impressive about the great gatherings everywhere, peacefully and solemnly taking the pledge of independence without any speeches or exhortation."2 In a press statement that he issued the day after, Nehru "respectfully congratulate[d] the nation on the success of the solemn and orderly demonstrations." Towns and villages had "vied with each other in showing their enthusiastic adherence to independence." Mammoth gatherings were held in Calcutta and Bombay, but the meetings in smaller towns were well attended too.3
Every year after 1930, Congress-minded Indians celebrated 26 January as independence Day. However, when the British finally left the subcontinent, they chose to hand over power on 15 August 1947. This date was selected by the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, as it was the second anniversary of the Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in the Second World War. He, and the politicians waiting to take office, could not wait until the day some others would have preferred—26 January 1948.
So freedom finally came on a day that resonated with imperial pride, rather than nationalist sentiment. In New Delhi, capital of the Raj and of free India, the formal events began shortly before midnight. Apparently, astrologers had decreed that 15 August was an inauspicious day. Thus it was decided to begin the celebrations on 14 August, with a special session of the Constituent Assembly, the body of representative Indians working toward a new constitution.
The function was held in the high-domed hall of the erstwhile Legislative Council of the Raj. The room was brilliantly lit and decorated with flags. Some of these flags had been placed inside picture frames that until the previous week had contained portraits of British viceroys. Proceedings began at 11 p.m., with the singing of the patriotic hymn "Vande Matram" and a two-minute silence in memory of those "who had died in the struggle for freedom in India and elsewhere." The ceremonies ended with the presenting of the national flag on behalf of the women of India.
In between the song and the flag presentation came the speeches. There were three main speakers that night. One, Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, was chosen to represent the Muslims of India; he duly proclaimed the loyalty of the minority to the newly freed land. A second, the philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, was chosen for his powers of oratory and his work in reconciling East and West: appropriately, he praised the "political sagacity and courage" of the British who had elected to leave India while the Dutch stayed on in Indonesia and the French would not leave Indochina.4
Excerpted from India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha Copyright © 2007 by Ramachandra Guha. Excerpted by permission.
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This is the only book of its kind available in English. It surveys Indian history since 1947. Guha's writing seems reasonably balanced and is highly interesting. I don't know why it took so long for a book like this to come out, given the interest that many English speakers have in India.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2009
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Posted February 5, 2010
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