Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A Note on Ramachandra Guha’s History of Independent India

Ramachandra Guha begins the prologue to his book, India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, with a poem called “Chirag-i-Dair,” which Mirza Ghalib wrote in 1827. Guha notes that “Ghalib’s poem was composed against the backdrop of the decline of the Mughal Empire.” This makes me wonder: why can’t Indian historians talk about India without first offering a panegyric to the Islamic poets and the Mughal Empire? 

In Section IV of his prologue, Guha introduces Delhi as “Ghalib’s native city.” He writes: “In the last decade of the last century I became a resident of Ghalib’s native city.” It is odd to see Delhi, one of the world's oldest cities, older than any European city, being described as merely Ghalib’s native city. In light of Delhi’s long history—the city was probably founded in the Mahabharata (Vedic) age—there could be many other ways of describing it. According to many historians, Delhi has the ruins of several great cities of the past buried underneath it. But Guha reduces Delhi to the level of Ghalib and the Mughals. 

Sardar Patel gets greatly diminished in the pages of Guha’s book while Jawaharlal Nehru is heaped with adulations. Guha tries to pull Patel down by making the case that Mountbatten, not Patel, deserves the credit for uniting the 565 princely states with India. He also tries to make the case that Patel was not enthusiastic about getting Kashmir to join India. “Notably, while Nehru always wanted Kashmir to be part of India, Patel was at one time inclined to allow the state to join Pakistan.” Guha makes this claim on the basis of a book written by Rajmohan Gandhi.

For Guha, Nehru is a sort of gold standard against whom other Indian leaders have to be measured. He presents Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a leader “who had even gone so far as to praise the Hindu Right’s pet aversion, Jawaharlal Nehru.” Really? Is there no other way of describing Vajpayee’s politics? 

A tribalistic and provincial politician like Sheikh Abdullah gets portrayed as a great statesman and visionary in Guha's book, while major national leaders are not even mentioned. Guha points out that in November 1947, when the Indian army was fighting to save Kashmir, Nehru insisted that the “only person who can deliver the goods in Kashmir is Sheikh Abdullah.” Nehru also called Abdullah a “leading personality in Kashmir.” It is clear that by overtly amplifying Abdullah’s role in Kashmir, Guha is trying to defend Nehru’s Kashmir policy. 

Abdullah gets more coverage in Guha’s book than Advani. Talking about Advani’s Ram Mandir campaign, Guha writes: “L. K. Advani’s rath yatra had, in effect, become a raktyatra, a journey of blood."

Guha’s description of the 2002 violence in Gujarat reads like a dubious report compiled by Teesta Setalvad’s discredited NGO. The sources that he has used include biased left-wingers like Siddharth Varadarajan and Rana Ayyub. Guha describes Narendra Modi as “a hard-line Hindutva ideologue who had grown up in the unforgiving school of the RSS.” Unforgiving? He notes that “Ever since the pogrom of 2002, Modi had been suspect in the eyes of the Indian intelligentsia.” Naturally, by Indian intelligentsia, Guha is pointing towards left-wingers like himself.

There are some good insights in Guha’s book, but this is definitely not an objective history of India. A leftwing intellectual like Guha cannot be expected to produce an objective history of India. He worships Nehru and he despises the so-called Hindu rightwing—naturally this bias taints his view of history. He has always been close to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which has ruled this country for several decades after independence. He is a strong supporter of leftist economics. All these biases are apparent in every chapter of his book.

No comments: