Monday, December 31, 2012

Democracy Revisited!

Book Review: Non-fiction/Patriots& Partitions by Ramchandra Guha, Penguin/Allen Lane, 334 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)
Between India after Gandhi and voluminous biography of Gandhi (the next in line of publication); Ramchandra Guha has produced two excellent anthologies-first came Makers of Modern India, and now Patriots& Partitions, which is maintaining the rigours of earlier books .Guha’s Patriots& Partisans is a collection of essays, some of which were published previously but they are extensively revised and rewritten for this anthology. The book is divided into two sections (titled “Debating Democracy” and “The Word and the World”)-both sections are engaging, as Guha is naturally fit to analyse India’s modern social history and dynamic changes at large.

In this wide-ranging collection of essays, Guha defends the liberal centre against the dogmas of left and right. Though he also forwards a case where the receding credibility of Congress and BJP is giving strong chances of left’s revival. Time will test, how effectively India’s democratic left parties would approach in a favourable time, but under the complex electoral fight. The book gives an overview of the major threats to the Indian Republic; also it reveals the dangers of fundamental political ideologies, the radical left, and the dynasty-obsessed Congress party. This way, he looks after on the current political scenario, which is perplexed and full with confusing ingredients.

In essays focusing on writers, scholars and institutions, Guha presents (from close personal angle) sensitive portraits of a magazine editor (Krishna Raj, EPW), a bookshop owner (Shambhag, Bangalore), a publishing house (Oxford University Press) and a famous historical archive (Nehru Memorial Museum and Library). Being a pre-eminent chronicler of India’s democracy and the modern changes, he unveils many subtle facts and perception, which normally surpassed by the most of scholars working under a confined mandate. His way of history writing is though comprehensive, but not so easy as it doesn’t have a strong backing from sources that is considered sacrosanct by myopic scholars.

Markedly distinct from the academic historiography, Guha’s writing heavily relies on social realities than on the stodgy loads of escapable facts. At the one end, where his works add the significance of social history, on the other, it maintains equal distance from over-simplifying the truths of history. This way, we get the comprehensive pictures of our immediate past, which is more important to understand, rather knowing the undated artifacts for getting in proper terms with the current challenges that India’s democratic political system offers. Lately, the time is up to make the historical narratives more akin to holistic approaches, as further maintaining stringent status quo would harm the purpose.

With working on broader realm and purposes, Guha’s gives fresh hope to the inter-disciplinary interface, which reestablishes the forgotten chapters from the recent history among a generation being drifted away from collective purposes. As a public intellectual and writer of utmost sensibility, Ramchandra Guha has much to offer for his readers and he is consistently trying to make his views (With his ideas shaped through long painful research) open in public. Also, living in India could be a real bliss for an intellectual. As in no other part of the earth, such warm responses one can get for his or her works. Guha reminds this and probably similar spirits give him energy to find the difficult details of history.

Guha’s writing converges for a noble goal and that is to keep faith in India’s constitution and the struggle of freedom struggle and in later period that made this nation a living reality. His positive take on Gandhi, Nehru and other leaders makes complete sense, as falling from their legacy will lead the collective psyche to an imagined territory. For stopping such causality, it’s better to appreciate our accomplishments and accepting the shortcomings. Either in collective or personal scheme, one can have disagreement with the State’s way of functioning or atrocities of nefarious private capital but alone that should not restrain any Indian citizen to have respect for the principal and edifices of its democratic system.

Like his all previous works, Patriots& Partitions also makes effort to revive people’s concentration on the beauty of India’s democracy but without ignoring the lot of challenges it faced on many fronts. Most of the essays from this collection are though published but have presented here with greater revision than one can expect, so reading them becomes essential for those, even who have read some of these essays earlier. This book is to know all about the strides Indian democracy has made in more than six decades and the path ahead for it.

Despite his best efforts, Guha supplies less than his readers demand from him-the new book is rattling good read, so it could be delight for book lovers. Also point to remind that, Guha writes only with major aims and research, so no work from him can be taken as “sandwich” between his own historic projects. Patriots& Partitions has maintained Guha’s track-record as a perfectionist with vast range of knowledge, spread in different areas and in capacity.
Atul K Thakur
(Published The Kashmir Monitor,30December2012)

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