Review of Ramachandra Guha’s “India after Gandhi” by Sumit Sarkar

The focus on political parties—and within them, on dominant personalities—inevitably leads to the exclusion of other protagonists, however. In his Prologue, Guha writes rather beautifully of the colourful tent cities that protesters from the provinces had established in the 1990s on either side of the Rajpath in Delhi—the imperial highway that runs up to the central government buildings—and his dream of chronicling the histories of the different groups:

One tent might be inhabited by peasants from the Uttarakhand Himalaya, seeking a separate province; a second by farmers from Maharashtra, fighting for a higher price for their produce; a third by residents of the southern Konkan coast, urging that their language be given official recognition . . . The people in these tents and the causes they upheld were constantly changing. The hill peasants might be replaced by industrial workers protesting retrenchments; the Maharashtra farmers by Tibetan refugees asking for Indian citizenship; the Konkani speakers by Hindu monks demanding a ban on cow slaughter.

In the early 1990s, Guha relates, the tents were summarily dismantled by the Rao government, ‘worried about the impression made on foreign visitors by such open expressions of dissent’. But the protesters regrouped a mile away, by a busy shopping street. In 1998 the police once again demolished the shanties, but as The Statesman reported, ‘only the venue has changed—the problem persists. The squatters are merely to be shifted to an empty plot at the Mandir Marg-Shankar Road crossing, where they are likely to draw less attention.’ Both the vitality and tenacity of the protesters, and the predictability of the police lathi-charges, are equally telling about Indian democracy today. Welcome as India after Gandhi is for its initiation of a new field of contemporary historiography, one is left half-yearning for the book Guha did not write.


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