Indian history is by default extremely dull reading, and very much in the hands of historians who insist on trying to inform us about administrative and social structures more than actual people and events. Fortunately Ramachandra Guha is not your run of the mill historian. Yes, he does know a lot about the country, but unlike many others, he would rather speak of the people and their actions and how it formed the nation that is modern India.
Which is why we think India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy is compulsory reading for anyone who is interested in modern India. As its name indicates, it narrates the events that affected the nation after the demise of Mahatma Gandhi, and is in essence, a history of independent India – Gandhi passed away in January 1948. The latest edition of the book takes you right up to the election and the early days of the current Narendra Modi government.
And it is a roller coaster ride. For, Guha does not stick to the routines, dry history that most academicians dole out. No, he digs out anecdotes, ranging from slogans on walls to arguments between worthies, and provides a rich and entertaining and yet incredibly educational picture of India. There is the utter idealism of the early Nehru, the slightly more fatigued version of the same person, the cynical times of Mrs Gandhi, the chaotic opposition, the at-times naive Rajiv Gandhi, and a whole lot more. And these times are dealt in detail with quotes and newspaper clippings from the period. You get to see the human side of India, as represented by its leaders as diverse as Jayprakash Narain and Laloo Prasad Yadav and its people. Yes, policies and economics are mentioned and given due importance, but this is first and foremost a story of India and its people. Jawaharlal Nehru who had famously said that the Indian people were “Bharat mata” (Mother India) would have approved.
You may not agree with everything that is said in the book. And you are not meant to. But such is the narrative skill of Guha that the thousand or so pages will just fly in front of your eyes. This is perhaps the finest history of modern India. Perhaps the finest history of any period of India ever written. Because it identifies India not as a collection of statistics and policies, but as a large group of people and its leaders. The one book on Indian history that you really need to read. And we promise you – you will not be bored at all