Dear Mr Ramachandra Guha

Patience is immoral

Your essay (via Streetcar) arguing that India will not, and should not attempt to become a superpower is simply too long. It does deserve to be read, though, though at leisure. For now let’s examine your concluding paragraph.

To follow the Naxalites is to plunge India into decades of civil war; to follow the Hindu right is to persecute and demonise large numbers of one’s own countrymen; to follow the market fundamentalists is to intensify the divisions between the consuming and the surviving classes (and to destroy the global environment in the process). Rather than nurture or act upon these utopian fantasies, the Indian patriot must focus instead on the tasks of gradual and piecemeal reform. We need to repair, one by one, the institutions that have safeguarded our unity amidst diversity, and to forge, also one by one, the new institutions that can help us meet the fresh challenges of the 21st century. It will be hard, patient, slow work—that is to say, the only kind of work that is ever worth it. [Outlook]

From your comfortable drawing room it is easy to argue that reform must be gradual and piecemeal and that the Indian patriot must be patient.

But it is immoral to keep hundreds of millions poor, to deny them economic freedom, to deny them a chance to improve the lot of their children, and climb out of poverty in a generation. Even if the divisions between the consuming and surviving classes intensifies in the process. Even if the global environment is damaged in the process. It is immoral to plead for patience, for one extra day of poverty is one day too many.

Look around you, Mr Guha. Look at the number of countries that have managed to extract their citizens out of poverty in less than the span of one generation. It’s quite all right if you reject the notion that India must not try to be superpower (although it is unlikely that you—like Gurcharan Das—fathom that India can’t improve the lot of its citizens unless it holds its own against the world’s powers). But why should you reject the idea that Indian people should get out of poverty as fast as they can?

21 thoughts on “Dear Mr Ramachandra Guha”

  1. >But why you should reject the idea that Indian people should get out of poverty as fast as they can?

    Guha would prefer that prosperity in India flow out of a tap rather than flow with the vigour of a river, just so that people like him can control that tap.

  2. Page 3 of his jeremiad and I got the drift. Anyway, countries don’t become superpower or empire because they want to. Rational response to their needs and their peoples’ aspirations make them one.

  3. Read Guha a few times, and watched him on TV too. Didn’t quite understand why he’s so popular with our media:

    * His views are pretty ordinary – standard left-liberal views mostly Nehru-inspired. I frankly didn’t find anything original in what he says, once you know he’s left-liberal, of course.

    * I expected his style – both written and spoken – to cover up for the lack of substance. That’s have some non-zero entertainment value. No luck there as well 🙂

    Atleast send someone good looking instead 😉

    As for Guha, he should probably stick to writing about cricket instead. After all, he’s often introduced as a ‘cricket historian’.

  4. Guha writes: “to follow the Hindu right is to persecute and demonise large numbers of one’s own countrymen;…”

    Yup, Hindus are evil hateful people. That is why they demanded a separate state for themselves saying that they cannot co-exist with non-Hindus. Hindus have steadily reduced the population of non-Hindus in India through pogroms, genocide, and all sorts of other hateful ways for centuries. Hindus have held their holy book — which basically says that Hinduism is the only religion and all other religions are false and their followers evil and should be therefore eliminated — close to their heart and demanded that the non-Hindus convert to Hinduism. Through conversion, genocide and other methods, Hindus have reduced the non-Hindus to nothing.

    Ram Guha is the messiah, the savior of the non-hindu from the hindu fiend.

  5. Atanu,

    Ramachandra Guha’s point is about the Hindu Right (who do persecute and demonise large numbers of their own countrymen). Your point is about Hindus in general. Both view are accurate.

  6. Let us see how the growth of the consuming class population has buttered Guha’s bread.

    For instance, what makes it possible for Guha to beam down on us ever so frequently from the idiot box, where he is invariably introduced as a “leading” or “eminent” historian? What makes it possible for Mrs Guha to run a profitable design firm catering to such market-fundamentalist requirements as stylish corporate logos? What propelled the prices of real-estate where Mr Guha lives — off Bangalore’s MG Road, the very nerve-center of the city — to so shoot through the roof that the price of Guha’s house alone can sponsor decent housing for several hundred of the surviving classes?

    I’ll be convinced of Guha’s sincerity in peddling the virtues of socialism if he will deprive himself, for just one year, of the benefits that market fundamentalist forces brought to him. All he needs to do is disappear out of public eye for one year. Given that “intellectuals” today depend as much as FMCGs on brand recall to stay in the game, can Guha afford to suffer a dent in income and marketability by shunning limelight?

  7. Nerus, I do not hold a brief for the “Hindu Right” and more importantly I am not fully conversant with their ideology. Perhaps you could help out with a few references which would indicate that “the Hindu Right do persecute and demonize large numbers of their own countrymen.” Assertion is one thing, evidence is another.

  8. Looks like Guha’s 18-page essay is designed to lower the pass-marks so that the UPA can make it through. Now that they have done everything in their power to ensure that India’s growth is set back, it is convenient to point out that India could never be a superpower in the first place. And to hold off accusations that the UPA has not only on the “second generation reforms” but gone back on them, it is nice to say we have to patiently repair democratic institutions etc.

    Heck, this when the UPA reduced the status of the PM into a bit-player while the power rested with the Congress party president. Heck, and when they elevated a corrupt, bit-player to the position of the president. And heck, when they had criminals in the cabinet…

  9. to follow the market fundamentalists is to intensify the divisions between the consuming and the surviving classes

    Market fundamentalist! Looks like Ramachandra Guha is reading that moronic blogger who keeps ranting about free market fundamentalists.

  10. Guha is not a left-liberal – the sort who swoons over thugs like Castro, Che, Gaddafi etc., He does not like the commies, and is no pro-public sector type. He does not favour bandhs either and thinks Jinnah was a dangerous person. Unfortunately he is a shrinking violet when it comes to the state’s exercise of violence and is, like his hero or fawnee, Nehru, the drawing room liberal. He has no grounding in India’s intellectual tradition being the uprooted type. But for that matter noether did Nehru or Gandhi. But then Gandhi thought for himself, Nehru simply read up a few things here and there.

  11. When asked what the german jews should do, MK Gandhi famously recommended collective suicide, speaking about it as joyful sleep.

    This is MK Gandhi when their was a high prospect of Nazi Germany conquering England –

    {quote} I would like you to lay down the arms you have which are useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession…. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them – {unquote}.

    There are many more Gandhian gems such as this if one cares to find.

    The “Hindu Right” is just a construction. And much of the thinking that has gone into this construction is the intellectual gibberish {or poison} by that great Indian, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

  12. I tend to agree with Kaangeya.Guha can no way be called classical left-liberal.Infact he has been one of the most ardent critic of the leftist thuggery and totalitarianism.

    Having said that his veneration of Nehru and deliberate attempt to whitewash Nehru’s monumental blunders takes away some sheen away from his undoubted scholarship

    To be fair to Guha unlike the pinkintellectuals ,he does atleast acknowledge the that there is something called Islamic Fundamentalism that exists.But he sadly he falters in his analysis after that.

    I think

  13. Let’s face it : the challenge of providing for all consumers in India is a tough one. I have experienced all the issues raised by Guha over the last 4 decades of working in Corporate India – the Naxalism,the Hindu right,the Muslim fundamentalist , the environmental issues and there is no one solution. The progress achieved has been despite the political chaos and hence it has been a meandering progress. However, no society has achieved a painless progress to prosperity : The Indians paid for the American progress in USA, the locals paid for the Europeans progress in the colonies and not to forget the pains inflicted on Korea and China by the Japanese.
    The question therefore is : who will pay for the progress of Indians? In the absence of strong and functioning democratic institutions, it appears that it will have to be the Indian common man till India becomes strong enough to export it : before the Indians in the US and the colonies, it was the common man inEuope who faced the brunt of Development. Let us remember that till mib ninteenth century ,an average Parisian was stil without shoes.

    And if the brunt is to be borne by the common man, how can policies and institutions be built that ensure that the common man can brave it and come out contributing to the growth imperative. This is what the national and state politicians are grappling with and tihs is what the coalitions era will have to tackle : once the urge to gain from rentering is satisfied, what remains in the focus of the politicians is what will ultimately decide which way the indian nation progresses.

    I think Guha’s piece is an important contributor to raise many of the underlying issues and caution that there is nothing like a free lunch .

    ( I have been a CEO of a Billion dollar manufacturing co in Europe and have a special interest in watching the social progress of India as a global Indian . I am now an academician working for my doctorate at the age of 56 ).

  14. Guha’s essay, particularly the ending reminds me of the seven in one essay our hindi teacher taught us in class seven. It started with our class going to a picnic, with one of the classmates drowning and when we come home our parents tell us that they have won the lottery. This gem of an essay can be written for ‘a day at the picnic, the best day of my life, the worst day of my life and a few other topics.

    So it is with Guha, a bit of this, a bit of that but lacking substance.

    We need growth and large doses of it. But in a democratic and diverse society that is actually difficult to achieve (I know sounds like trite). Step back and think for a moment – most people who are in politics today were the same people who were promoting the license permit raj. Something which was instituionalised over the past 40 years. Now we are busy unwinding all of that. Not that this is an excuse for doing things slowly as Mr Guha has suggested. Growth will be disruptive and even painful at times..but it is any day better than the stagnation from independece till the 1990s.

  15. sanjay,
    there is truth in what you say.But then the path also is clear.We have to demonise and crush islamic fundamentalits,anti national forces,bleeding hearts,pseuds,dravidian racists,christists for the road to prosperity.


  16. Dear Sanjay,

    I liked your perspective and would like to speak to you about an interesting project that we are undertaking with Ram Guha.

    There needs to be a balanced view..some of the respondents are simplistic and dismissive. It is ridiculous to not acknowledge the scholarship and intelligence of Ramachandra Guha. One can disagree with his Nehruvian ideal. The discussions need to be detailed, exhaustive rather than just perceptions.

    Sanjay, my email is ramnara at gmail dot write

    warm regards


  17. Funny to see Nerul trying to differentiate between “Hindu” and “Hindu Right” and Atanu Dey issuing a rejoinder to it!

    For all his pretensions to ‘modern’ outlook, Atanu Dey himself is a rabid fanatic. You don’t even have to spend 10 minutes on his blog to notice his self-righteous chest thumping in support of the same extremist position for which he does not hold any ‘brief’ per his comment above.

  18. Luckily this thread comes back in my RSS reader at a right time. I recently checked out Guha’s recent book and put it back on the shelf within a few minutes, mainly for two reasons:

    1. I am not going to read a book about Indian history whose first chapter is titled “unnatural nation”.

    2. Then, later on, Vajpayee, in a picture, gets addressed as a “hindu politician”. For God’s sake, man!. He was an “Indian” PM not a Hindu PM.

    Please go back to school, Mr. Guha.

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