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India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy Hardcover – July 24, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 166 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. India is the country that was never expected to ever be a country. In the late 19th century, Sir John Strachey, a senior British official, grandly opined that the territory's diverse states simply could not possess any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious. Strachey, clearly, was wrong: India today is a unified entity and a rising global power. Even so, it continues to defy explanation. India's existence, says Guha, an internationally known scholar (Environmentalism: A Global History), has also been an anomaly for academic political science, according to whose axioms cultural heterogeneity and poverty do not make a nation, still less a democratic one. Yet India continues to exist. Guha's aim in this startlingly ambitious political, cultural and social survey is to explain why and how. He cheerfully concludes that India's continuing existence results from its unique diversity and its refusal to be pigeonholed into such conventional political models as Anglo-American liberalism, French republicanism, atheistic communism or Islamist theocracy. India is proudly sui generis, and with August 15, 2007, being the 60th anniversary of Indian independence, Guha's magisterial history of India since that day comes not a moment too soon. 32 pages of b&w illus., 8 maps. (Aug.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Historian Ramachandran Guha, the author of Environmentalism: A Global History (1999) and The Unquiet Woods (1989), among others, and a current resident of Bangalore, writes of what he knows. Weighing in at nearly 900 pages, India After Gandhi successfully clarifies the convoluted history and contradictions of the world's second most populous nation. That Guha leaves questions unanswered in a book of this scope, as one critic asserts, might be considered nit-picking. To be sure, the author does choose his questions-giving particular attention to Nehru, India's first prime minister-and he doesn't shy away from offering his (mostly optimistic) opinions on important issues throughout. Still, critics agree that Guha's effort succeeds in putting a face on a country whose political and economic history, despite its size and growing influence in the "flat-world" model, remains virtually unknown by many outside India.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (July 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060198818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060198817
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Frank J. Wassermann on August 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
India after Gandhi

The author alerts his readers early on that for many Indians "history" ended with independence. Apparently, there have been practically no general histories of India as a nation-state. Thus this book fills a serious gap for those Westerners, especially, who want to understand more about the second largest country (by population) and largest democracy in the world.

The author is an articulate and erudite guide, giving us a traditional chronological story through the administration of Rajiv Gandhi, and then a more or less thematic exploration of India's more recent developments. This works well as the last of Nehru's descendants to rule marks something of a watershed in Indian politics. The new system of highly fragmented regional and caste politics, leading to largely non-ideological coalition governments in Delhi, has persisted and grown since 1989. That has made Indian democracy in some ways stronger but also more cynical and corrupt. The author cites polling in which some 90% of the Indian electorate considers their political leaders corrupt, and he estimates that half or more of Indian politicians are on the take, large or small. Overall, he judges that India is "50% democratic and 80% united." (The corruption undermines the democracy; marginalized minorities resist governmental authority in remote and poorer regions of India.)

Indeed, the challenges of unity and democracy are the central concerns of the Indian story. The author has culled from a trove of eminent pundits predictions throughout India's history of its demise as a democracy or as a unified state.
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This is an extremely well organized, readable, informative, and insightful history of India after independence. Guha details the political and socio-economic history of India from August 15, 1947 to today. The author does an outstanding job of bringing such a voluminous amount of material and a somewhat chaotic history with many, many themes into a coherent whole. To date this is the best writing I've seen on post-independence India.
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In my mind, three things stand out about this book: it comes across as intellectually objective, full of interesting facts and very brave.

Firstly, the views on Nehru are refreshing and enlightening, especially because they contrast him with his daughter, who undid many of his contributions. Guha especially conveys how it was Indira Gandhi who probably inculcated the `dynasty' not just in the Congress party, but for others to emulate. You definitely don't leave this book feeling positive about Indira, and in my opinion, rightly so.

His view of the 1965 war with Pakistan: a `stalemate'. It was only post 1971 that India abandoned non-alignment in favor of the Soviets because of Russian pro-activeness, not the other way round. Going back to the mid-50s, India's non-alignment suffered when Nehru & Menon refused to slam the Soviets for their invasion of Hungary. There are far too many little interesting tid-bits to mention, but its great that he's covered a wide range of issues such as the rise of caste-based politics (over ideology) in the late 70s, the various cults of personality across the country, the botched Chinese war, etc. He does give the post independence leadership a positive pat on the back, given the circumstances. I especially like his coverage of the 90s that lead us to where India is today. One thing I've enjoyed about this book is that it is a good primer for understanding India's current affairs - it has improved my understanding of context when I read the morning papers in India. Even by the author's own admission that it takes a generation to view past events correctly, he has done an admirable job.
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Format: Hardcover
Ramachandra Guha's new book is a bold attempt at revisiting the major ups and downs, albeit mainly in the political sphere, that independent India has had to endure during the last 60 years of freedom. He offers some very valuable insights on the 'Indian Experience' and tries to answer a question that has baffled political and social scientists for quite some time now - Why does India keep on surviving?. Despite the many doomsday scenarios declared by people of all shades and hues, India has endured secessionist movements, famines, religious fundamentalism, population explosions and a brief flirtation with dictatorship with Indira Gandhi's emergency.

The answer is obviously complicated but the author has done a very nice job of making the reader realize the uniqueness of the continuing grand Indian experiment in liberal democracy. Given the paucity of literature on developments within the country after 1947, this book has definitely filled a gap which avid India-watchers are sure to appreciate. To sum it up, the author has made a substantial contribution to the debate about the idea and essence of India and he follows in the footsteps of writers like Sunil Khilnani (The Idea of India), Octavio Paz (In light of India) and William Dalrymple (The Age of Kali). Appropriately timed as India celeberates its 60th year of Independence and reflects on its achievements and failures with a mixture of pride and somber reflection.
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