India After Gandhi

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o answer the question whether India has been a successful democracy Ramachandra Guha invokes the great comedian Johnny Walker’s lines from a movie where his answer to all the questions of life (like whether he would marry the lady he so dearly loves) is , “Boss, phipty, phipty.” Much the same could be said of the book. There could not have been a more daunting topic for a writer, especially Indian, than “India after Gandhi.” Guha handles this humongous theme in a “phipty, phipty” sort of way.

Coming to the positive phipty, most of the political events post Gandhi have been dealt with. Some like the five year plans in some detail and others like the IPKF misadventure in Sri Lanka only in passing. One area where the book breaks new-ground is in regard to the numerous separatist and insurgent movements in the troubled north-east. At least for me the background against which the movements took place and the enormous cost to the resident population became much clearer. A.N.Phizo of the Naga National Council is given an especial coverage which is thoroughly deserved. The states reorganization, the 1971 war, the emergency, Babri demolition and other important events are given their due. The numerous twists and turns in the Kashmir problem have been well delineated.

The negative phipty is heavier from my point of view. As for any book of such wide breadth, the depth is sadly missing. The whole Nehru era though occupying a third of the book feels shallow when compared to recent works like M.J.Akbar’s spirited biography of Nehru. The post liberalization India is given a cursory glance. To be fair to the author, his main intent is to chronicle India till 1989 from when on he reckons history is too close to the present to permit an unjaundiced rendering. Vallabhbhai patel and Rajaji, Gandhi’s hands and head to Nehru’s heart, who had active political lives after independence are given short shrift. Rajaji’s prescience when he warned of the dictatorial...
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