More makers of modern India

Rajadhyaksha’s review of Guha’s book

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha has a fine review of Ramachandra Guha’s “Makers of Modern India” in Mint.

Reading through the selections of the 19 makers of modern India, one is struck by the sheer diversity of concerns that gripped their minds—the gradual reformism of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the militant populism of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the enlightened globalism of Rabindranath Tagore, the attacks on caste by E.V. Ramaswami, the feminism of Shinde, the nation-building of Nehru, the futile quest for alternatives to parliamentary democracy by Jayaprakash Narayan, the fight for a free market economy by C. Rajagopalachari, the sharp investigations into caste as a central fact of Indian life by Ram Manohar Lohia and the insights into tribal life by Elwin.

These and other leaders have continued relevance. The splendid economic boom that India is in the middle of will inevitably be socially disruptive as well. It is a well-documented fact that the social strain of such disruption often leads to rebellion or hyper nationalism, to anarchy or oligarchic rule. We see early signs of all these in India, in tribal rage harvested by the Naxalites and the flag waving encouraged by the mainstream political parties. It is critical at such as juncture that India remains in touch with the enlightened political thought that emerged in response to colonial rule and later gave us a liberal republic.

A sound understanding of Indian political traditions would also help us understand the importance of Ambedkar’s perceptive warning on 25 November 1949. [Read the whole thing at Mint]

That Ambedkar’s Grammar of Anarchy speech should make it into the book is appropriate. Contemporary India must read and reflect on perhaps the most prescient set of warnings that the republic’s founding fathers left behind. Ambedkar is well-known, even if his actual ideas are now forgotten, but Mr Guha has done well to commemorate lesser known, not no less brilliant thinkers too. (The book has Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Ambedkar, Periyar, Raja Rammohan Roy, Syed Ahmad Khan, Jotirao Phule, Gokhale, Tilak, Tarabai Shinde, Jinnah, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Golwalkar and Lohia)

Mr Rajadhyaksha rightly points out that Mr Guha’s work will be contentious because of who it leaves out. I personally think Goparaju Ramachandra Rao, or “Gora”, should be more than a footnote in modern India’s intellectual history. There are many more.

So why not share who you think ought to be considered a maker of modern India in the comments space? (Note: if you are linking to a URL, please ensure that you enclose it in valid HTML tags)