Friday, October 29, 2010

Indian politicians are ignorant of their legacies: Ramachandra Guha

By John Cheeran

Contemporary politicians are comprehensively ignorant of the legacies they claim to represent, says Ramachandra Guha, author and historian.
Guha was speaking at the launch of Makers of Modern India, a book edited and introduced by him and published by Penguin Books India.
Makers of Modern India is an anthology of the writings of 19 thinker-activists and includes stalwarts such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru as well as unjustly forgotten thinkers such as Hamid Dalwai and Tarabai Shinde.
The author said the book was the result of an attempt to find out what contributed to Indian democracy and pluralism in 19th and 20 century. He said Indian democracy owes a lot to proximate traditions rather than emperors such as Asoka and Akbar.
Guha said Makers of Modern India is the public face of the Indian political tradition and writings included in the anthology are highly relevant to the contemporary realities. To illustrate his point Guha quoted BR Ambedkar, the maker of the Indian Constitution, “Bhakti in politics will put you on the road to degradation,” and added that Gandhis and Modis would do well to remember Ambedkar’s words.
Why no politician thinks like Ambedkar any more, asked Guha. Why today’s politicians are lacking the intelligence, literary skill and moral courage to tell the truth like their predecessors did, is a question the book would encourage readers to ask, Guha added. “The book is meant for every thinking Indian, and also for politicians,” Guha said.
Girish Karnad, playwright and author, while launching the Makers of Modern India bemoaned that though Karnataka has been responsive to ideas from all over the world, it has failed to produce many thinker activists equaling the stature of Guha’s 19. He attributed this to the fact that Mysore was under the thumb of British rule and what now constitutes the state was divided into four parts and there was little interaction among these units.
Karnad, however, added that Kannadigas should take solace at the inclusion of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, a Gandhian and social reformer, whose sphere of work was far removed from the state in the later years.
Karnad said Guha has made the intellectual life of India extremely vibrant and recalled the historian’s confrontations with fellow intellectuals, including Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen and Gayatri Spivak, a post-colonial theorist. Karnad said: “Guha throws up answers and raises new questions in his works and Makers of Modern India, too, does it well.”
Makers of Modern India starts with the first liberal Rammohan Roy and takes readers through Gandhi, Nehru, MS Golwalkar and ends with a single and singular individual – Dalwai, a Marathi speaking Muslim.
Notable exceptions from the list of 19 are Subash Chandra Bose and Vallabbhai Patel. Guha says their writings are ‘flat’.
Marxist thinkers are left out since they have not contributed any original ideas.

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