This review appears in the latest issue of BusinessWorld.
Name: Patriots & Partisans Author: Ramachandra Guha
Publisher: Penguin (Allen Lane) Price: Rs.699
Anatomical pieces on India
Ramchandra Guha is a writer of amazing breadth and depth. He is much more than a pure historian. He writes not just with the eyes and the mind, but also with his heart. This book is a collection of various essays that appeared in several publications. The book is divided in to two parts- The first part deals with India- its problems and a brief capsule of the leaders who brought us out of English rule to self governance.
Thanks to the overbearing media noise, today, we are eager and ready to pass judgement on so many things, without understanding the context, the background and the history. This collection of essays helps put in perspective many of the complexities facing India today. Whether it is one of political divergence, family domination in politics or divisive fundamentalism- there is a tale to it. Someone somewhere needs a reason to dominate or lead and a whole new ‘cause’ is born. History is important so that we understand the context and then form or express our opinions.
I would urge everyone who is interested in politics and general issues facing the nation to read this book. Taking sides without knowing the facts is what many of us tend to do, when it comes to political matters. We hardly know the full history. This book is sure to help bring a proper perspective to a lot of things bothering us at this time. Whether it is the Nagaland problem, the China issue, the Nehru dynasty or the language issues, the essays give a good perspective.
That he is a historian with a mind and a heart is very clear. Ramchandra Guha makes no bones about his lines of thinking and is not afraid to take sides. Each essay on a subject is complete with the events and the history that gives you the freedom to differ on the views of the writer. This is also a reflection of the writing style and the honesty of the writer. He does give his view, but leaves you free to form your own view.
If you have not bothered to read up on Indian history post independence, this book is a must read. It gives you a snapshot of the birth, the growth and the problems that India is facing today. Maybe it will also help you get rid a proper picture of leaders from the pages of Indian independence.
The author clearly shows his liking for Pandit Nehru. Thanks to the behaviour of the later generations of the family, the Nehru brand has taken a beating. The writer tries to give a full snapshot of Nehru, warts and all. At the end of it, whilst your opinion about the later generations will not change, you might take a more sympathetic view of Nehru.
Since the book is a collection of previously published ‘essays’, this book will not count as ‘history’. However, the title “patriots and partisans” is the binding glue for the essays in the first part, that runs roughly two thirds of the volume. The title is relevant because patriotism without partisan behaviour seems to be one thread before independence and post independence, patriotism in India has been diluted by partisan attitudes- language, religion or economic principles. The title also signifies why India will never find peace. Partisan attitudes cannot jell with patriotism, especially in a country divided by languages, religion and economic disparities.
The second part of the book is a collection of six random topics. One of them talks about the closing of the Bangalore book shop (Premier), one about the family interference in the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, one about writers in more than one language etc. There are no unifying threads here, but you could dip in to it anywhere you like. If you are one of those who went to college in the seventies, perhaps you will identify with four out of the six essays in the second part.
If you do not have the patience or the inclination to go through lengthy history books on India of recent vintage, this book is recommended. Today’s history is going to be a collection of what the media thinks it wants to create. A 50,000 crowd can be hyped up as a ‘national’ event by today’s media. And you have the internet and social media to balance it out. I recommend this book for those who have an interest in present day politics, but do not have the knowledge of the past.