India’s long political tradition needs impetus: Ramachandra Guha


New Delhi: Author and historian Ramachandra Guha Monday said that India has been lucky to have a long, high-quality political tradition but more needs to be done to restore and rehabilitate it the current context.

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Giving the fourth Penguin India lecture on “The Indian Political Tradition – And Those Who Made It” based on his new book `Makers of Modern India’, Guha said that the tradition of political activism in the country has been continuous and has touched every important aspect of human tradition.

He said India is the world’s most “unnatural nation and least likely democracy”. “The political miracle owes itself to a remarkable set of men and women who, I call, Indian political tradition,” he said.

He said that Raja Rammohan Roy was a “precocious pioneer, scholar and political reformer” who battled Hindu orthodoxy and understood the challenge posed to an ossified society by the Western thought.

He said that university education after 1857 proved crucibles of modernity and helped shape the thought of a generation of Indians.

Referring to the exchange of letters between Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranth Tagore and the letters Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to chief ministers, he said that such exchange of thought not only provides intellectual stimulation but clears position on fundamental issues. Terming Gandhi as “mother of all battles concerning social reforms”, Guha said his views were challenged by men of various ideologies and he put forth his cogent arguments.

He said Nehru, too, faced ideological challenge from Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayprakash Narayan, M.S. Golwalker and E.M.S. Namboodripad.

Guha said there were no reformers, writers or thinkers in the country’s politics today and wondered if Congress scion Rahul Gandhi had read Nehru’s letters to chief ministers, if Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati had read the works of Ambedkar and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had read a book on Lohia.

He said US president Barack Obama was closest to a thinker-politician after Nehru.

The lecture was followed by a question and answer session with NDTV group editor, English News, Barkha Dutt.

Guha’s book divided into five parts – the opening of Indian mind, reformers and radicals, nurturing a nation, debating a democracy and tradition reaffirmed – profiles 19 Indians whose ideas had a defining impact on formation and evolution of the Republic.

They include Syed Ahmed Khan, Jotirao Phule, G.K. Gokhale, B.G. Tilak, Tarabai Shinde, B.R. Ambedkar, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, E.V. Ramaswamy, Kamladevi Chattopadhyay, C. Rajagopalachari, Veerier Elwin and Hamid Dalwai besides Rao, Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru, Golwalkar, Narayan and Lohia.

The book has been brought out by Penguin Books India.