Thursday, June 21, 2007

Reading India After Gandhi

I am presently reading (more like devouring) Ram Guha's magnificent new tome, India After Gandhi. The book is a fascinating and accessible telling of our country's post-independent history from the assassination of the Mahatma to present times. With copious research, Ram Guha has highlighted several previously unknown or relatively obscure historical vignettes. It is amazing how he has packed information about so many events without giving the impression of being hurried or pedantic.

The book is noteworthy for its clear and accurate discussion of several constitutional and legal developments. That, by itself, is a big achievement. Most contemporary Indian writers and historians fail to either acknowledge or reflect upon the role and influence of the Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the system of laws on the life of our Republic. Ram Guha is an important exception. For that reason and more, I believe his book is essential reading for the Indian legal community. After all, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it: "A page of history is worth a volume of logic." The pages of India After Gandhi are worth an entire bookshelf of materials, and I am very glad it now adorns mine.

2 comments:

BN Harish said...

Vikram,

I completely agree with your views on the book. In particular, the chapter titled Rights is of particular interest to readers of this blog given the recent discussions on caste, reservations, etc. Guha makes some interesting observations which raise a number of arguments in the context of using caste as a marker for reservations

Arun Thiruvengadam said...

The book is indeed fascinating, and will no doubt become a standard reference text. Chapter 6, titled "Ideas of India," is ideal for introducing law students to the backdrop and processual details of the making of the Indian Constitution. I can't think of any other source which accomplishes as much within 25 pages. My only quibble with the chapter is that it doesn't really add very much to what we know from Granville Austin's first book. Guha cites Austin's book several times and also calls it "magisterial." Given the new archival sources that Guha employs to add new insights on various issues, I was hoping that there would be additional information for constitutional scholars. But, given the vast ground the book covers, perhaps relying on Austin's work for this issue is justifiable. This is not to suggest that Guha doesn't add anything to this analysis - towards the end of the chapter, he draws a telling contrast between the processes by which the Constitutions of Japan and India were drafted, underscoring the quality and quantity of debate in the Indian case, as well as its genuinely independent character.

As some reviewers have noted, Guha appears to have consciously refrained from injecting his own typically strong opinions into the narrative of his text. Thankfully, however, one finds traces of his liberal beliefs sprayed across the book.