Wednesday, September 17, 2008

India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy


History for Indian children, Ramachandra Guha aptly remarks in India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, runs right out of content in 1947.
All that has happened during the last 55 years may filter through the measly civics syllabus, popular cinema and television; history as formally constituted knowledge of the past does not cover it.
But even this overestimates how much recent history Indian children manage to encounter. Images of the past through civics, popular cinema and television? Bah. My civics textbooks were BORING and they had NO context: every aspect of Indian democracy seemed to have emerged in a vacuum. Hindi films may be a treasure trove for sociologists interested in examining the structures of Indian society but someone hoping to glean a narrative of India's 55 democratic years will have to have superhuman cognitive powers if they rely only on our movies alone.

History after 1947 plays no part in our high school history curriculum. And the history syllabus for schools is crucial since it is probably the only time where history is studied systematically. For glimpses of the more recent past, Indian children have only their newspapers to rely on since newspapers will always include a cursory paragraph or two about the related past, even has they report on current events. The paragraph is usually very cursory. ("The Kashmir dispute started in 1947" or "The roots of the current issue go back to the 1975 Emergency"). But enough to at least know what happened and when (well, roughly). But read enough news articles and one could conceivably learn an impoverished sketch of India's recent past.

Why do history textbooks give not even a cursory narrative after 1947? Guha offers one interesting reason:
If, for Indian children, history comes to an end with independence and partition, this is because Indian adults have mandated it that way.
There is definitely some truth here. I once asked my father why we only had the first 4 volumes (covering the events until 1940) of Y. D. Phadke's Veesavya Shatakatil Maharashtra (Maharashtra in the 20th century: Phadke planned to write 8 volumes, each covering a decade until 1980, and finished 6 before he died this year.) My Dad replied that he didn't really need books for the decades after 1940 since he'd actually lived through it!

The gerontocracy of our history-writers (and readers!) is hardly the reason why no narratives of the last 50 years makes it into our history textbooks though. A bigger reason is that there is no consensus on how we view what has happened in the last sixty years -- things are too "controversial" to be discussed with children. Why and how this is so is hardly the topic for a blog-post -- although one can get an understanding of it after reading Guha's book.

So has nothing been written on India about the past 55 years? Well, there is, but it's not history. Here's Guha again:
In the academy, the discipline of history deals with the past, while the disciplines of political science and sociology deal with the present. This is a conventional and in many ways logical division. The difficulty is that in the Indian academy the past is defined as a single, immovable date: 15 August 1947. Thus when the clock struck midnight and India became independent, history ended, and political science and sociology began.
To remedy this, Guha has dug through the "present": through newspaper and magazine archives, through academic and popular books on sociology and anthropology (and of course, his own experience) and crafted a narrative that takes us through India's post-independence years -- all in a cool 800 pages. As as summary of the recent past, I think it's pretty good.

I have a couple of minor quibbles with the book. I wish Guha hadn't crammed 50 years of about films and music into one last chapter called "The People's Entertainments", rather than interweaving it with the tale that occupies the rest of the book. And I would have liked a more detailed narrative of India's economic policies. But in his primary task, that of writing a history of Indian democracy, he does very well.

And along the way, he sprung some surprises on me as well. I had always thought that the Allahabad Court Ruling against Mrs. Gandhi that led to the actual imposition of the Emergency in 1975 was about some substantial electoral malpractices. Instead did you know that 12 out of the 14 charges against her were dismissed? And that out of the two counts on which she was convicted, one had to do with her constructing a dias that allowed her to address people from a dominating position when she gaves speeches, and the other was that her campaign manager was still in government employment when the campaign began! Trivial? I mean Indian politicians do this all the time! The mind boggles. Now I am probably underestimating the symbolic importance of the ruling -- plus the fact that those were turbulent times. All good points. But when one gets one's history from one-paragraph summaries in newspaper articles, (smaller) points like these are invariably left out. (Notice the Wikipedia paragraph I linked to before mentions nothing about the charges on which Mrs. Gandhi was actually convicted).

Reading Guha's book led to a lot of such small moments of revelation (most of which I don't even remember now). And -- which brings me to the real point of this post :-) -- Guha's book comes with an extensive set of footnotes., many of them pointing to notable books about post-independence India. What follows is a list of books (and perhaps an essay or two), about India's "present", topic-wise, culled from the notes, based on my own, somewhat idiosyncratic interests. Most of Guha's bibliography tilts towards books written in English or available translations of books in other languages. Still - something is better than nothing. To avoid making this post bigger than it already it, I have posted it in the comments. Enjoy.
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UPDATE: Ha. The formatting gets messed up in the comments so I am posting it here itself.

Nuclear Tests:
Ashok Kapur, Pokhran and Beyond: India's Nuclear Behavior (Oxford).
Hillary Synnott, The Causes and Consequences of South Asia's Nuclear Tests
M. V. Ramanna and C. Ramamanohar Reddy, Prisoners of the Nuclear Dream

Kargil:
Hassan Abbas, Pakistan's Drift into Extremism
Aijaz Ahmad, The Many Roads to Kargil, Frontline, July 1999.
Praveen Swami, The Kargil War.
Rahul Bedi, Dismal Failure: Essays on the Kargil War.
Sanjoy Chowdhury, Dispatches from Kargil.
Guns and Roses: Essays on the Kargil War.

Economic Liberalization:
Rahul Mukherji, India's Aborted Liberalization: 1966, Pacific Affairs 73(3), Published in 2000.
Gurcharan Das, India Unbound (an fairly popular idiosyncratic account of the 1991 liberalization).
A Kochanek, Regulation and Liberalization in India, Asian Survey, Vol 26, No 12, 1986
Supriya Roychowdhury, State and Business in India: The Political Economy of Liberalization 1984-89, Unpublished Thesis, Dept. of Politics, Princeton University

Corruption in contemporary India:
Shiv Visvanathan and Harish Sethi (Eds), Foul Play: Chronicles of Corruption

Narmada Valley and Big Dams:
Amita Baskar, In the Belly of the River: Adivasi Battles over Development in the Narmada Valley
Jean Dreze, Meera Samson, Satyajit Singh (Eds) The Dam and the Nation

Kashmir:
Manoj Joshi, The Lost Rebellion
Tavleen Singh, Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors
M. J. Akbar, India: The Seige Within
Michael Brecher, The Struggle for Kashmir
Sisir Gupta, Kashmir: A Study in India-Pakistan Relations

Punjab/Khalistan:
Anup Chand Kapur, The Punjab Crisis
Ram Narayan Kumar, The Sikh Unrest and the Indian State.
Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi's Last Battle
Satinder Singh, Khalistan: An Academic Analysis
Hamish Telford, The Political Economy of Punjab: Creating Space for Sikh Militancy, Asian Survey Vol 32 No 11 November1992

Delhi Anti-Sikh Riots:
Uma Chakravarti, Nandita Haskar, The Delhi Riots: Three Days in the Life of a Nation
Anon, Who are the guilty: Report of a joint enquiry into the cuase and impact of the riots in Delhi from 31st October to 10th November (PUDR and PUCL, 1984)

Hindutva:
D. R. Goyal, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh

Communal Riots:
Dilip Padgaonkar (Ed) , When Bombay burned
Siddharth Varadarajan (Ed), Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy
Ashgar Ali Engineer, Communal Riots in post-independence India
M. J. Akbar, Riot After Riot.

Ayodhya:
Nilanjan Mukhopadhayay, The Demolition: India at the crossroads.
Christopher Jaffrelot, "The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s"

The Kaveri dispute:
Ramaswamy R. Iyer, Water: Perspectives, Issues, Concerns.
S. Guhan, The CAuvery River Water Dispute: Towards Conciliation

Bofors:
Chitra Subramaniam, Bofors: The story behind the news

Panchayati Raj/Decentralization:
Mahi Pal, Panchayati Raj and Rural Governance: Experiences of a Decade, Economic and Political Weekly 10th Jan 2004

Muslim Life:
M. K. A. Siddiqui (Ed), Muslims in Free India: Their social life and problems.
W. C. Smith, Modern Islam in India
W. C. Smith, Islam in Modern History. (both famous books but they only go up to the 1940s).

Recent Dalit politics/caste/Dr Ambedkar/Dalit literature:
Jayashree Gokhale, From concessions to confrontation: The politics of an Indian untouchable community.
Eleanor Zelliot, Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar movement
Valenan Rodrigues (Ed), B. R. Ambedkar: Essential Writings
Arjun Dangle (Ed), Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature
Narendra Jadhav, Outcaste: a memoir (translated from Marathi)
Vasant Moon, Growing up Untouchable in India, translated from Marathi by Gail Omvedt
Vasant Moon, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, translated from Marathi by Asha Damle
M. N. Srinivas, Caste in Modern India, Jan 1957, Address delivered to the Science Congress in Calcutta
Chistopher Jaffrelot, India's Silent Revolution: The Rise of the low castes in North Indian Politics.
Sudha Pai, Dalit Assertion and teh Unfinished Democratic Revolution: The Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh.
Kanchan Chandra, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic head counts in India.

1975 Emergency:
Rao and Rao (Eds) The Press she could not whip

Rural Life and Democracy:
Ashutosh Varshney, Democracy Development and the Countryside: Urban Rural Struggles in India

Environment:
Ramachandra Guha, How much should a person consume? Environmentalism in India and the U.S.

Bombay 1980s (the mill worker's strike):
Rajni Bakshi, The Long Haul: The Bombay Textile Worker's Strike.
Meena Menon and Neera Adarkar, One Hundred Years, One Hundred Voices, The Millworkers of Goregaon: an Oral History

Early conflicts of the Indian Republic (primarily the reorganization of states along linguistic lines):
Robert Stein, "The Process of Opposition in India"

The China conflict:
Steven A. Hoffmann, "India and the China crisis"
J. P. Dalvi, Himalayan Blunder
Neville Maxwell, India's China War (seen from the Chinese perspective).

On the making of India's constitution:
Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution: The Cornerstone of a Nation

Indian Cinema:
History:
Erik Barnouw and K. Krishnaswamy, Indian Film (2nd Edition)
B. D. Garga, So Many Cinemas: The Motion Picture in India
Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willeman (Eds), Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema
Narrative Structure:
Nasreen Munni Kabir, Bollywood: The Indian Cinema Story
Panna Shah, The Indian Film
Agehananda Bharti, Anthropology of Indian Films, Illustrated Weekly 30th Jan, 6th Feb 1977
Songs/Music:
N. M. Kabir, Playback Time: A brief history of Bollywood film songs, Film Comment May-June 2002.
Manek Premchand, Yesterday's Melodies, Today's Memories
Bonnie C. Wade, Music in India: The Classical Traditions

Television in India:
Arvind Rajgopal, Politics After Television: Religious Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Indian Public
Sevati Ninan, Through the Magic Window: Television and Change in India

Sri Lankan Conflict:
A. Jeyaratnam Wilson, Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: It's origins and Developments in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
Sankaran Krishna, Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka and the Question of Nationhood.

3 comments:

sandeep said...

had heard about this book - good to see such an elaborate review on this..

Harini Sridharan said...

Man! that was very nice of you to type out the lengthy book list :)

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