THE ROAD AFTER INDEPENDENCE
A really nice read. Guha chronicles India’s journey from the agonies of Partition through the excesses of Emergency up to the growth of the IT industry.
Guha starts with the events leading up to Independence, then turns to the horrors and heartbreak that Partition brought. He spends a lot of time detailing the Nehruvian era, the challenges of bringing the kingdoms together, of dealing with the unrest and tackling the ever-troubling issue of Kashmir. He then passes on to Indira Gandhi’s age, the times of the Emergency and then on to the modern years.
Every year after 1930, Congress-minded Indians celebrated 26 January as independence Day. However, when the British finally left the subcontinent, they chose to hand over power on 15 August 1947. This date was selected by the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, as it was the second anniversary of the Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in the Second World War. He, and the politicians waiting to take office, could not wait until the day some others would have preferred-26 January 1948.So freedom finally came on a day that resonated with imperial pride, rather than nationalist sentiment. In New Delhi, capital of the Raj and of free India, the formal events began shortly before midnight. Apparently, astrologers had decreed that 15 August was an inauspicious day. Thus it was decided to begin the celebrations on 14 August, with a special session of the Constituent Assembly, the body of representative Indians working toward a new constitution.
The British departure from India was just the opposite of their arrival: abrupt and hasty. Whatever their reasons may have been, they gave India and its leaders hardly any time to adapt to the situation, to make a clear roadmap as to how India would be shaped after Independence. Guha paints a picture of a country struggling to eliminate its differences and emerging out of the maze of political and social uncertainties. He writes with a empathetic air, exploring the dilemmas of the first leaders of India and their approach to Partition, mixed economy, world affairs and of course, Jammu and Kashmir.
Guha is obviously an admirer of Nehru, and that shows in his dedicating half of a nearly 800-page book to his reign, though his admiration feels a little like hero-worship at times. I am not enamoured by Nehru's views and policies, and I felt that Guha glosses over his mistakes in his effort to show us a benevolent, well-meaning Prime Minister whose errors in judgement were solely due to others manipulative actions, and not his fault whatsoever. But the picture he depicts of a young country with a million diverse interests, struggling to stay together, touched me deeply. I was a little disappointed at the low coverage given to the 1990s, which I thought was more relevant to the current political situation. His book reads more like a novel rather than a history book, which makes it an entertaining read. He writes clearly and simply, and a lot of research has gone into the writing. I usually avoid non-fiction because they often become heavy, but India After Gandhi engages your interest throughout. It’s a refresher course in Indian history and an absorbing one at that.