Book Review: India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

India After GandhiIndia After Gandhi The History of the World’s Largest Democracy By Ramachandra Guha

A very good historical account of India as a new nation state.

“India After Gandhi” covers a long period in Indian history from 1947 to 1990. There is an extended post script (“A history of events”) that covers the incidents and movements after 1990 to up until 2004. The book ends with author’s perception on why India survives regardless of many doomsday predictions that it has encountered throughout its 70 or so years of existence, about its survival as a single nation founded on democracy and secularism.

The story starts with independence, but does not cover the events and personalities that lead up to it. The longest part of the story in the book narrates a very engaging story of a young country trying to define itself, by creating a constitution that guarantees universal adult franchise, building a bureaucracy by extending the British ICS, providing a judiciary that is independent and generally infusing the county with optimism and ideals of a just born country. At the same time the country was dealing with division of the country into two, the “biggest human migration in history” that left many thousands killed and left many more thousands with no property, arduous resettlement of refugees, intricate and complex integration of more than 500 princely states into a country and the mammoth task of building its infrastructure. Author also gives a details account of various insurgencies including Kashmir issue. It is this part that covers era of Nehru and Shasri that is well written and well researched.

The second part deals with how the constitutional democracy slowly transformed into a “populist” democracy under Indira Gandhi and how the emergence of local politics changed the topology of Indian politics. Here Author’s research seems to be constrained to Haskar’s (A top bureaucrat in Mrs. Gandhi’s inner circle) papers and newspaper journalism. The depth of analysis suffers because of the weakness of primary source materials.

The third part, that is aptly named as “history of events” deals with most “current”, in terms of history, events in India. They are mostly depended upon journalism rather than any historical research, but in some way present a good analysis of emergence of caste, religion and regional based politics in India

All in all a very good history of India, especially on its inception stage as a nation.

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