India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. As the name suggests, this book deals with Indian history after 1947 and history assumes the form a of a story in this book. It is not everyday that you want a voluminous history book to never end. I wonder why Indian history post independence is not taught in schools. In my opinion, this book is a must read for anyone wishing to know about India’s modern and contemporary history.
What I loved:
1. Wide array of topics: The book gives an account of almost all watershed events; from integration of princely states to linguistic issues, from wars with China to liberation of Bangladesh, from Nehru’s non-alignment to Indira’s emergency, from Mandal commission to Babri Masjid demolition, from Kashmir troubles to Naga insurgency, from Khalistan to river disputes, from Kashmir dispute to LTTE troubles, from refugee issues to Operaation Bluestar, from party politics to regional leaders and from refugee problems to corrupt Congress leaders among many others.
2. International perspective: Guha has also tried to cite events from an international perspective, quoting foreign newspapers like Daily herald, delegates like Strachey and leaders like Nixon among others at regular intervals. This helps in understanding what other nations though of India in those times.
3. Well researched: Guha has put a superhuman effort in researching about many notes. The 90 page bibliography is a testimony to that. For some events, the author has identified the event which triggered a chain of disasters.
4. Unbiased: Guha has written in a journalistic style. The book has been written from an almost neutral point of view. The only thing the author seems to be against is communism. Though, at some points, one might feel that Guha is a Nehru-worshiper, but, then again as Guha himself says, “A historian is also a citizen”.
5. The Prologue and Epilogue: Brilliantly written. In the prologue, the author mentions that India is an unnatural nation that is divided along the axes of caste, language, religion and class. According to intellectuals, Indian democracy was a failed experiment and India as a nation would not survive? After listing all the trials and tribulations, disputes and conflicts, challenges and struggles, Guha questions as to ‘Why India Survives?’ in the epilogue. And he gives a brilliant answer.
6. Description of elections and Kashmir issue: Guha has described the Kashmir issue in a grandiloquent manner. Some complete chapters have been dedicated to the problems in Kashmir. He has called the 1951 elections as ‘The Biggest Gamble in History’ and has described it in a beautiful manner.
7. Quotes and Slogans: My favorite part of the book. Some of them are given below:
Election campaigning against the then defence minister: “Chini hamle hote hai, Menon Saab sote hai. Sona hai to sone do, Kriplani ji ko aane do.”
Heading of a US newspaper when Indira Gandhi went to US:“New Congress Leader comes begging.”
1967 elections: “Jana Sangh ko vote do, bidi peena chhod do. Bidi mein tambaku hai, Kangresswala daku hai”
Emergency times: “Janta ka dil bol raha hai, Indira ka singhasan dol raha hai”
Robin Jeffrey(historian): “Few people contemplating Indira Gandhis’s funeral in 1984, would have predicted that ten years later India would remain a unity but Soviet Union would be a memory”
8. Apples in the basket: This is the name of the third chapter of the book, in my opinion, the best one. This chapter is arguably a summary of V.P. Menon’s The Story of the Integration of the Indian States. Guha has beautifully described, the indefatigable efforts of Sardar Patel in integrating the nation.
What I did not like:
1. The economic reforms of 1991 have not been expanded upon. These have only been mentioned in a passing.
2. The book feels like a timeline of Congress, particularly Nehru-Gandhi family. I believe the author could have written more about other political parties and leaders
3. Presentation of events post 1985: Events after 1985 have not being given enough importance. Instead, Guha deviates from politics to movies, singers and effect of cricket in India.
I have not read many books but in my small book collection, this one occupies a special place. It is an eye-opener. It is a great work on India’s modern history. It helped to fill in a vacuum in my knowledge of Indian history.