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81 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2007
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. Virtually all underestimated the resilience of India's vast amalgam of linguistic, religious, and ethnic groupings, and ultimately their appreciation of Winston Churchill's aphorism--that democracy is "the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Near the end of the volume, the author quotes an anonymous essayist who wrote about India's political future in 1958:

The prestige that the [Congress] party will enjoy as the inheritor of the mantle of Gandhi and Nehru will inhibit the growth of any effective or healthy opposition during the first few years. In later years as popular discontent against the new generation of party bosses increases, they will, for sheer self-preservation, be led to make to make increasing attempts to capture votes by pandering to caste, communal [i.e. sectarian] and regional interests and ultimately even to "rig" elections.

Heavy state involvement with the economy gave the State "glittering prizes to [offer to] the business community as well as the managerial classes, [so that] the monied interests are bound to infiltrate sooner or later into the ruling cadres of the party in power." Finally, the writer predicted that growth of caste, sectarian, and regional identity politics would lead to an "increasing instability of government first in the states, then at the Center." This instability would in turn lead the parties to rely increasingly on the politics of fear.

This assessment came closest to the truth of the many predictions, and may serve as a summary for much of what most ails India's politics today. Yet an outside Western observer must come away nevertheless impressed with an experiment which, the author points out, actually anticipated the pan-European movement in the postwar era. In effect, India is composed of the equivalent of at least a dozen or more nations analogous to the nations of Europe. They were connected loosely by a history of Hindu religion, migration, and invasion by Muslim peoples and then cobbled together administratively under the British raj. Their ability to cohere for sixty years now with an "Indian" identity is, as the author observes, a truly unique development in modern history.

Some suggestions for a second or revised edition - an index of maps and tables, a glossary for Western readers, a time line of key events, an expanded "Cast of Principal Characters" and a few more maps of physical features and political history to help orient the many readers coming to the history of India for the first time in depth. Providing a little more background on Hindu culture, the caste system, and pre-independence Hindu-Muslim relations would also help the general reader considerably. But at 893 pages, one might assume that is where the editor drew the line. However, I would have traded most of the chapter on "people's entertainments" for such background.

An excellent companion book to read is -- In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce, a British citizen and correspondent married to an Indian. If possible read Guha first and then Luce for a more detailed and vivid look at contemporary India as shaped by the history portrayed in Guha's book.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 9, 2007
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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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2007
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.

Kashmir is given 'fair' treatment in that, it is the unfortunate Kashmiri (both Hindu and Muslim) who has been been caught in a wider struggle that included British, American, Soviet and Chinese interests at the time of partition itself. Guha clearly shows that for very different reasons, neither India nor Pakistan have fared well.

Guha admires India's continued democratic lean, especially its ability and resourcefulness in holding elections. India's multi-lingual democracy is favorably contrasted against countries that have viewed linguistic differences as an opportunity to secede. His bravest views are against the horrible politically motivated pogroms against the Sikhs in Delhi and the Muslims in Godhra. It is refreshing to see this point of view coming from within (ie, an Indian) not that India's `free press' has been afraid of voicing its opinion, just not as clearly as Guha does.

Personally, I wish he'd spent a little more time talking about the psychological mind-shift from the early 70s to this generation of up-beat world beaters. Instead of hoping others write more deeply about some of the subjects he briefly touched (as he mentioned during his book launch), perhaps he should himself have another go at a follow up book. This book however, covers many topics deeply enough for me to highly recommend his work.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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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49 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Ramachandra Guha, Stanford/Yale professor turned writer, has done an outstanding job covering the history of India since 1947. The book is very engaging and informative. If you want to understand the evolution of modern India, you ought to read this book.

India's journey in the last sixty years could be described as a journey between two books: from Katherine Mayo's "Mother India" (dismissed by Mahatma Gandhi as a drain inspector's report) to Thomas Friedman's "The World is flat" (with adulations about a confident and growing economy).

The journey has several good and bad milestones:

(a) Good news: The country dealt with the messy partition - a great human tragedy that displaced 8 million people. Handling the bi-directional migration in Punjab was easier than the uni-directional immigration in Bengal.

(b) Good news: India, the political entity was created by unifying the various bits of the jigsaw puzzle left behind by the British; a country that the nation never had in several thousand years of history .

(c) Good news: A style of government based on rule of law, secular principles and a stable constitution was fashioned. A constitution based on liberty, democracy, emancipation and equality was created. Democracy has been the biggest strength of India in the last 60 years.

(d) Good news: The country was re-organized into linguistic states. Linguistic bonding created strong states under a federal structure and is one of the reasons why democracy has had a deep rooted existence in India.

(e) Good news: Nehru set in place political sensitivity that a heterogeneous population requires to hold the country together. Muslims in India went on to play a great role in India.

(f) Good news: Nehru laid the foundation for democratic traditions by conducting general elections every five years by universal adult franchise. Popular mandate dictated public policy and politics. Transfer of government from one administration to another was civilized.

(g) Good news: The Hindu personal code was reformed and standardized; a true revolt against the oppressive features of the Hindu society. Nehru/Ambedkar achieved in 17 years what could not be achieved in the preceding 1,700 years.

(h) Bad news: Nehru empathized with but desisted from reforming Muslim code; he preferred to leave it for a later day and to Muslim leadership. The Supreme Court judgment in Shah Bano case offered an opportunity. Muslim leadership was in support of this reform. However, Rajiv Gandhi, fearing electoral defeat, reversed the judgment by legislation in spite of the protest and resignation of his Muslim minister Arif Mohammed Khan.

(i) Good news: India got the ruler of Kashmir to sign on to join India when Pakistan sent "trained insurgents" to take Kashmir by force. Nehru got the popular Muslim leader Sheikh Abdullah to support accession to India. Nehru held general elections in Kashmir to ensure governments in Kashmir were backed by popular mandate.

(j) Bad news: Democratic principles and civil liberty were severely challenged by Indira Gandhi.

1 Constitutional rights and civil liberty were suspended for two years. However, these were restored by a wiser government that followed.

2 Political leadership in opposition was imprisoned but opposition leadership rose to the challenge; and the electorate rejected Indira's actions by voting her out; her defeat was near total.

3 Political leadership in Congress party itself was weakened; inner party democracy weakened and power shifted to a coterie of advisors and members of the family. The party is yet to recover from this; however, the weakening of the Congress party has strengthened Indian democracy. Since 1989 no party has been able to form government on its own and coalition governments have come to stay widening and deepening democracy but rendering public policy slightly incoherent.

4 Political leadership at state level was weakened; and nominees of "high command" were "elected" by obedient legislatures to power as Chief Ministers. However, strong leaders like N T Rama Rao rose to protect "Teluguwala gopatnamu" and brought back pride to leadership at state level.

5 Government executives were pressured to be "committed" to political agenda (instead of being neutral in a multiparty democracy). Government executives were too glad to co-operate and several of them have turned to political careers after retirement.

6 Judiciary was pressured to be "committed" to political agenda. Though there have been a few instances of favored promotions, the Judiciary has substantially held its independence.

7 Gag rules were enforced on press for two years by Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi attempted, in response to stories of corruption, legislation to jail editors for "scurrilous publication". Fortunately protests in Parliament prevented the legislation.

(k) Bad news: Corruption became endemic in the system. State's control over economic assets, and State's leverage over private enterprise were enhanced ostensibly to fight the rich on behalf of the poor; but with a more obvious consequence of decision-makers in government being able to convert their influence over the direction and timeliness of the decisions into personal or political wealth.

(l) Bad news: India saw two pogroms. Against Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Both arose due to willed breakdown of law. The PM in Delhi and the CM in Gujarat issued graceless statements that in effect justified the killings. Very unfortunately both reaped electoral rewards.

(m) Bad news: Rising Religious fundamentalism, by Hindus and Muslims, affected peaceful co-existence. A sixteenth century mosque around a Hindu sacred site has been a trigger for religious divide in India for long. Destruction of the mosque by Hindu fundamentalists stepped up the divide. Mahatma Gandhi's advice to a pluralistic society to not seek benefits for the maximum; but maximize benefits for all was sadly forgotten.

(n) Good news: Backward castes who benefited economically from land reforms have started asserting themselves politically (Karunanidhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav). Dalits found new leadership in Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Increasing political assertiveness would influence the differences to vanish in the long run.

(o) Bad news: Territorial integrity of India saw a few challenges that stemmed from:

1 Departing British rulers encouraging princely states and hill tribes to remain independent and have a dominion status with Britain so that the empire survives the Raj. Churchill's support to Hyderabad and Nagaland are examples.

2 Political insensitivity of federal government to the pride, claim to common resources, border or leadership as in the case of Punjab

3 Pakistan's agenda to avenge the loss of Bangladesh by supporting religious divide and sponsoring terrorism.

4 Kashmir.

(p) Bad news: The economy was mismanaged for first 35 years and is dogged by a "blow hot blow cold" view for next 25 years.

1 Indian economy, second largest in the world from time immemorial to 18th century stagnated with zero growth from 1857 to 1947 thanks to inept British rule.

2 The young nation pursued socialism (centralized planning, state ownership of big ticket industry, state control over private enterprise etc) for two reasons: Nehru truly believed in it; Indira Gandhi saw an opportunity in it to get defined as pro-poor and win elections. End result: Economy grew at a stately pace of 3.5% pa for the first 35 years.

3 The mid sixties famine was a shock to India. However, the "green revolution" helped India achieve self sufficiency in food production. Wheat production doubled. Rice production grew 50%.

4 Rajiv Gandhi started with right ideas by liberalizing trade, reducing duties, incenting exporters, simplifying license regime, lifting curbs on businesses and reducing tax rates; but reverted to populism closer to election time. (He did not win, however).

5 The 1987 drought affected 200 million people and entailed a few starvation deaths.

(q) Good news: A severe economic crisis forced politics to take back seat and introduce economic reforms in India that pushed India into a growth path.

1 The coalition governments inherited a crisis and had to take "significant" steps in opening up the economy, inviting foreign investment, and liberalizing trade.

2 However, there is a continuing debate between "reformers" and "populists".

3 Economy is growing at a faster 6-8% in the last ten years.

4 There were success stories. The software service exports, aided by Nehru's education system and linguistic policy, Rajiv's emphasis on telecommunication and George Fernandes expulsion of IBM giving rise to indigenous players, grew from $ 0.1 billion in 1990 to $ 13.0 billion in 2004.

We have today a confident and rapidly growing India; well integrated with global markets for goods/services and capital. Democracy has taken a deeper root and some tradition in the country. Several malaises prevail and pose challenges.

Will India survive?

So long as the democractic traditions remain, secularism prevails, citizens remain free, market is respected and civil service/army remain; and Hindi film songs are sung, India will survive" says Guha.

Let me add my contribution to India with a Hindi film song: "so jo kabi aisa ho to kya ho?"

Just dont miss the book. If possible recommend the book to a young Indian.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
At long last a fairly detailed post-independence history of modern India. As many reviewers have stated the writing and organization of the book is excellent. Numerous historical players make their appearance in this text. I learned quite a bit from this work. Reading this book is akin to reading a good novel.

There is one drawback to the text which in my opinion is quite significant. I mean the absolute lack of GOOD DETAIL READABLE maps. There are a few maps but they are scantily illustrated with terrible font size and lack detail essential to the text narration. Why am I so hung up on the map issue? Because to follow the text wherein numerous mentions are made of cities and migrations one needs good maps to trace the writing and FULLY appreciate the author's excellent work. I suspect that the author will agree with my point. I found a pre-independence map of India on the web and printed it off to make my reading worthy of the time that the book deserves.

Hopefully in the next edition this significant shortfall will be corrected. Nevertheless don't let that stop you from reading this book. Excellent and valuable text.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2011
It was not clear to me from the information provided by Amazon that this really is the same book as India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy. That edition has about 900 pages vs. the Kindle version's 772 vs. the Kindle product description's 300. The Kindle edition is missing the photos of the printed edition. There are maps in the Kindle version, but Kindle maps leave much to be desired.

Unlike many Kindle editions, the notes and index actually work. Each entry has links to the corresponding points in the text. Very nice.

The Kindle version was obviously produced by scanning a printed version and running the result through a spell checker. No proofreader has ever seen this text. Every page has some words run together and others split apart. The book is not unreadable, but it is certainly annoying.

I have both the 900 page and Kindle versions. At home, the 900 page one is my favorite: the whole book is very nicely laid out and easy to read, and the maps and photos are helpful. On the road, I take the Kindle.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2011
These are the kind of history books I most like to read: broad overviews of vast stretches of history, written in an accessible yet scholarly and well-researched manner. Guha points out in the intro that historians have traditionally focused more on the colonial period than on recent Indian history, as if that period was more interesting. He makes a good case for recent Indian history's importance and drama, telling a tale of religious upheaval, political turmoil, a few insurgencies, idealistic heroes, cynical scoundrels, social change, some horrible riots, economic growth, wars with Pakistan and China, and a few interesting figures with multiple sides to their personalities (namely, Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay).

Although it's a huge, long book, Guha rarely conveys the impression that he's dwelling for too long on any particular topic. I did think he gives the Nehru era a little more coverage considering its duration, but considering that this is when the foundation of modern India was laid, it's justifiable. He also devotes two whole chapters to the Jayaprakash Narayan movement and the ensuing Emergency, but since this was a dramatic time when India's future as a democracy was imperiled, it's also understandable. He does a weird thing for the last volume and focuses on the last two decades thematically rather than chronologically; I'm not sure why. This has its ups and downs; although we can follow certain themes more clearly when they're not cluttered with other issues, it also sacrifices that 'timeline' feel that's so important to history books, and we sadly lose the political narrative. He never discusses the prime ministers during this period except in other contexts, for instance. I would've liked a little examination of A.B. Vajpayee. Finally, I appreciate the chapter about pop culture in the end. Pop culture is as important to defining a nation's character as anything else and has a great deal of impact on ordinary people, but historians, fixated on politics and society, usually overlook it.

My complaints are minor. Guha is Indian, so unsurprisingly he is somewhat biased at times. His main thesis, which opens and ends the book, is that India doesn't get enough credit from foreigners for its triumphs. True, he makes a good argument, but you could also argue that it doesn't get enough criticism from locals considering its many, many problems. (When your main defence is essentially, "Hey, at least we haven't fallen apart"... you've got issues.) His coverage of the Indo-Pakistani conflict is (subtly) biased towards India. Pakistan is always shown in a negative light. Also, he is very nostalgic, and always full of praise for Nehru and his cohorts, against whom modern politicians are nothing but a bunch of scumbags.

These complaints aside, this is still a fascinating, informative read, which covers pretty much all the bases and strikes the right scholarly-but-not-boring tone. I recommend it to anyone with any kind of interest in India.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2007
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.

Kashmir is given 'fair' treatment in that, it is the unfortunate Kashmiri (both Hindu and Muslim) who has been been caught in a wider struggle that included British, American, Soviet and Chinese interests at the time of partition itself. Guha clearly shows that for very different reasons, neither India nor Pakistan have fared well.

Guha admires India's continued democratic lean, especially its ability and resourcefulness in holding elections. India's multi-lingual democracy is favorably contrasted against countries that have viewed linguistic differences as an opportunity to secede. His bravest views are against the horrible politically motivated pogroms against the Sikhs in Delhi and the Muslims in Godhra. It is refreshing to see this point of view coming from within (ie, an Indian) not that India's `free press' has been afraid of voicing its opinion, just not as clearly as Guha does.

Personally, I wish he'd spent a little more time talking about the psychological mind-shift from the early 70s to this generation of up-beat world beaters. Instead of hoping others write more deeply about some of the subjects he briefly touched (as he mentioned during his book launch), perhaps he should himself have another go at a follow up book. This book however, covers many topics deeply enough for me to highly recommend his work.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2007
To appreciate this book, you must be interested in a balanced presentation of the many facts that bore on the issues that faced India from 1948 forward. The author writes well; this is fortunate, as otherwise the reader would be snowed under with all of the characters, the political positions, and the maze of details that pertain to the multiple historical subplots.

This is excellent history. It treats the major events with the pages that they deserve. For example, the whole story of Kashmir is described, from the fears that preceded partition through partition, the first war and all the successive battles, the personalities of the major participants, and the political and religious positions. Here, as elsewhere throughout the book, the difference between the sectarian positions of Pakistan and the secular positions of India are explored, along with the consequences. The movements to establish states along linguistic lines is well explored. Likewise, the politics relating to lower castes and treatment of minorities is given plenty of attention. Nehru gets much attention, and although the author recites the criticism that he faced for what were perhaps overly socialistic central government programs, he repeatedly receives credit for taking nonpartisan positions that promoted the greater India welfare, particularly in the areas of preserving rule of law and ensuring the rights of minorities (such as the millions of Muslims in India).

For all of the multiple subjects, the author explores the opposing positions, and places matters in a historical perspective. Time after time it is fascinating to see how various Indian leaders' views were shaped by their respective different backgrounds, and how biases prevented them from supporting what, in hindsight, appeared to be correct solutions. There is much here that makes one think of American politics, and our own inabilities to avoid arguing from highly partisan positions.

Ted Preston, author of Judging the Lawyers
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