India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy
by Ramachandra Guha (2007)
688 pp, Macmillan, £25
Indian edition: Pan Macmillan, Picador India, New Delhi; Rs. 695. ISBN 9780330505543 | Find all editions in a library near you on Worldcat.org >>
The modern history of India’s tribal communities and the contributions made by their leaders is covered in great detail in this highly readable work.
Review by KN Panikkar: “Democracy in practice”, The Hindu, Tuesday, Jun 19, 2007
A tribute to Indian democracy capturing the pain and the struggle, the humiliations and the glories
[…] Guha is quite obviously an admirer of the achievements Indian democracy has attained in a largely hostile environment, vitiated by religious superstitions, caste prejudices and acute economic disparities. He claims that the “real success story of modern India lies not in the domain of economics but in that of politics.” The low levels of income and literacy, and high levels of social conflict have often led to the prediction that India might any day succumb to dictatorship. That India has managed to prove these predictions wrong and remained a democracy for 60 long years have surprised many political observers, particularly because democracy became a casualty in the neighbouring countries. How it managed to do that, both through the contribution of individuals and institutions, is the theme of this pioneering study which is by far the most comprehensive work on the contemporary history of India. […]
The first task that Indian democracy had to face was to establish and internalise what Sunil Khilnani has described as the idea of India. It was initially attempted through the adoption of a democratic constitution, integration of princely states and the linguistic reorganisation of states. In the conditions obtaining in India in the wake of Independence all the three were beset with considerable difficulties. The Constitution in which many heard the “music of an English band” rather than the “music of veena” laid down the principles and practices of a democratic state and society. […]
At the same time the linguistic reorganisation helped to underline the cultural diversity, which underlay the unity of the nation. The basic structure of the polity that evolved stood the test of time, withstanding the pressures, be they from the Northeast or the South or Kashmir.
The democratic practice in India is a highly contested terrain. Even during the anti-colonial struggle different political formations with widely different ideological persuasions and programmatic approaches were in existence. Yet, after Independence the Indian National Congress held the sway for quite some time under the leadership of Nehru. Soon after coalition governments came into existence which Guha contends is a “manifestation of the widening and deepening of democracy” as different regions and groups acquired a greater stake in the system.
Guha has admirably captured the spirit of the struggling nation. However, at the end a doubt lingers in the mind: whether the author has overstated his case about the strength of Indian democracy, underplaying in the process some of its glaring weaknesses. A fairly large section of the population is deprived of the benefits of democracy, particularly their right to a share of the wealth of the nation. That they remain in the margins of the democratic process can hardly be wished away.
Source: The Hindu : Book Review : Democracy in practice
Address : http://www.hindu.com/br/2007/06/19/stories/2007061950371400.htm
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