Indian history seems to have frozen in time. At the stroke of midnight in 1947, to be precise. Anything written about the period after independence can be classified more as political science or sociology, as rightly pointed out by historian Ramachandra Guha in his masterly work on post-independence history of the country, India After Gandhi. Much ink has been used up on the colonial period, but barring some young scholars outside the Indian university system, few seem to be examining historical themes in the post-independence period. In this context, Rajmohan Gandhi’s India After 1947: Reflections & Recollections, published right on the eve of the nation’s 75th independence day, came with much promise, especially with Gandhi being the Mahatma’s grandson and a great scholar who writes lucidly.
The back cover of the book says: “Seventy five years after independence India faces stark questions. Some of the most pressing ones relate to jobs and the cost of living. But questions about the state of our democracy are equally critical, if not more so. A timely study of the state of the nation from one of our foremost thinkers, India after 1947 is an essential read that reminds us of who we are as a nation and what we should aim to be.” Such a rich description surely tempts readers, but barring his deep disappointment over the misuse of Lord Ram’s name and Ayodhya, rising Hindu communalism and the Hindutva brand of politics, the author offers little else. Anyone who has followed Gandhi’s works would know he is no lover of Modi or the BJP, but surely talking of 75 years of post-independence India demands details beyond the 14 years of BJP rule alone? His personal interactions with Congress leaders and a play on the maxim “forget your foes, finish your allies” to sum up non-Congress governments leaves readers feeling a little cheated.
If the idea was to study the way democracy has progressed or regressed over the years, a broader canvas encompassing records of all prime ministers and political parties was needed—to explain the roots of well-sown dynastic politics, caste politics and its machinations, and origins of communalism, for instance. And, answers to questions like why is the BJP or the RSS, on the fringes for so long, now so well entrenched that no countervailing forces seem viable?
Being a historian, Gandhi should know well that events have a cause and effect relationship; nothing happens in a vacuum. The extreme minority pleasing by the Congress, overturning of the Supreme Court’s order on the Shah Bano case by Rajiv Gandhi, emergence of the Muslim-Yadav electoral alliance, and VP Singh’s Mandal politics angered the average middle class Hindus, paving way for the BJP to come into its own and establish its voter base.
On the Mandir issue, while Gandhi rightly argues that Hindutva forces used it for political purposes, he ignores how the issue was muddied by Ram-ridiculing Leftist scholars and historians, which only fanned communal tempers. A strong advocate of Mandal Commission’s recommendations, the author sidelines the fact that VP Singh used the long-forgotten report to score a crude political point in the name of social justice. Similarly, communalism doesn’t have a Hindu face alone, as suggested by the author.
It’s true that the non-Congress governments in the past fell because of personal ambitions of individual leaders, but it’s equally true that such formations lacked a cohesive ideology barring a dislike for Indira Gandhi. The similarity cannot be starker today when a group of Opposition parties come together on occasions only to oppose Modi rather than with a coherent ideological plank.
In fact, the author seems to endorse an alliance of dalits, adivasis, other backward castes and minorities against high-caste ideology of Hindu nationalism, forgetting how caste politics perfected by the likes of Lalu Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh brought about criminalisation in both these backward states. And, hilariously, he rues that Hindu nationalism has been successful in enlisting some Dalit and OBC support for its anti-minorities agenda.
In the slim, 113-page account of India’s 75 years after independence, the most interesting portions are about the author’s personal interactions, but sadly there’s very little of that too. More focus on his personal story would perhaps have made for a better read than a diatribe on Hindutva forces, which anyway can be found aplenty on social media platforms.
India after 1947: Reflections & Recollections
Aleph Book Company
Pp 136, Rs 399