Indians bond with English, Bollywood, cricket: Ramachandra Guha

By Shinie Antony


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New Delhi : Historian Ramachandra Guha, whose latest book "India After Gandhi" blends rich research with readability, says many factors looped the nation into a single strand – its first line of politicians after independence, the English language, Hindi films and cricket.

The glue that keeps India together against all odds is the work of the founders of Indian democracy, he stressed.

"The first line of politicians, like Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, and also the provincial leaders are responsible for India's unity. That is why I have detailed leaders like E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Sheikh Abdullah, M.G. Ramachandran and Jayaprakash Narayan. Many things keep us together – the English language, Hindi films, cricket…" Guha, 49, told IANS here.

"India's greatest achievement is its linguistic pluralism, which kept us from going the way of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Here, every state has its own language and script. English and Hindi provide the link and are complementary languages," he noted.

Other fusing factors are "adherence to a shared constitution, the comfort the constitution allows in language and religion, and allowing illiterate people to cast votes, which was a visionary decision".

In "India after Gandhi", touted as the first book on the history of independent India, Guha tells the story of the forging of a united and democratic nation out of so many disparate and disputatious parts.

However, he added, "as a nation we are not adequately interested in our recent history. There should be more interest in the history of independent India, more biography of our leaders. We are still obsessed with the Raj".

And though the book says that arguments put China ahead of India in the financial front and India ahead in the political, Guha said: "International relations are not an examination where one country has to come first. That's just jingoistic rivalry."

The "hardware of democracy merits self-congratulation", not the software, he said. "Lack of transparency, corruption…these are the deficiencies in the system."

The 900-page Picador book also mentions that India is a "50-50 democracy". By adhering to a prescribed text, can India look forward to becoming a 100 percent democracy?

"It never can. There is no perfect society on earth. My argument is that even 50 percent is an achievement. Sure, it is a flawed democracy and we have to be vigilant. As a citizen, the glass may seem half empty. But to me, as a historian, the glass is half full," he pointed out.

About the epilogue – "Why India Survives", which has been called the book's strength by the western press, he says: "The epilogue analyses how India could go on despite the doomsayers. I have probed the features that kept us together."

A criticism had been that he has overlooked the cultural aspect.

"I disagree. I devoted a lot of space to Hindi films. See, we can say someone is a great writer, but he may not have played a major role in linking the nation, like say Lata Mangeshkar," the author said.

In all, he says the book was hard work and took him eight long years to research and write.

"There was no part I shied away from. It was hard work, but intensely compelling. It was complex, ambitious and the most important book I'd ever write. When it came to some topics, yes, I had to learn more. For instance, I don't watch Indian films, but I have written about them because they are a major connecting source culture-wise.

"It is a large country with a complicated history, so the journey was challenging," he added.

Guha has taught at the universities of Oslo, Stanford and Yale, and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, where he is currently based. His other books include "A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport", "The Picador Book of Cricket" and "Environmentalism: A Global History".