Ramachandra Guha's Blog

October 12, 2014

The best biography of Vallabhbhai Patel was written by Rajmohan Gandhi. Based on full access to Patel’s own papers, it is a rich account of his life and struggles, set against the context of the historical forces which shaped them.


Rajmohan Gandhi’s Patel: A Life, was first published in March 1991. The preface, written in April 1990, begins thus: ‘The establishment of independent India derived legitimacy and power, broadly speaking, from the exertions of three men, Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. But...

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Published on October 12, 2014 08:27 • 37 views

September 28, 2014

In April this year I was in Houston, which has a large Indian community. I had dinner with a group of NRIs, and we spoke about the 16th General Elections. I was told a hundred college students and professionals from Houston had gone to India to campaign. How many for the Bharatiya Janata Party, I asked. At least ninety, said my hosts, adding, most likely ninety-nine.


For at least two decades now, the BJP and its sister organizations have worked actively among Indians in North America. NRIs hav...

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Published on September 28, 2014 08:18 • 22 views

August 9, 2014

In her recent book Green Wars, the environmental journalist Bahar Dutt writes: ‘The editor of a leading media house, everytime I pitched a green story, would invariably complain: “Environmentalism is stalling growth; all I am interested in is double-digit growth for this country”’.


The idea that environmental protection and economic progress are at odds is widely held among India’s elite. It is shared by newspaper editors, economists, businessmen, and, not least, politicians. The free-market...

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Published on August 09, 2014 05:37 • 130 views

August 3, 2014

In the year 1970, Rajni Kothari published a major book with the straightforward title, Politics in India. The bulk of the book was devoted to the then dominant Congress party. Kothari argued that before and after Independence, the Congress was successful in presenting itself as the ‘authoritative spokesman of the nation as well as its affirmed agent of criticism and change’.


The reasons for Congress hegemony were several. The party was a broad church, containing many shades of opinion within i...

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Published on August 03, 2014 05:27 • 86 views

July 26, 2014

In October 1984, I got my first academic job, at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata (then Calcutta). A week after I joined, a friend from Chennai (then Madras) sent me a petition on the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, which he hoped some of my colleagues would sign. The first person I asked was a senior historian of North-east India, whose work I knew but with whom I had not yet spoken. He read the petition, and said: ‘As Marxists, the question you and I should be asking is w...

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Published on July 26, 2014 05:21 • 65 views

July 20, 2014

Shortly after the Trinamool Congress came to power in West Bengal, I was invited to speak at a university convocation in that state. I flew in the day before the event, and was met at Kolkata airport by the university’s Registrar. A three hour drive to our destination followed. I was then taken on a tour of the campus, concluding with a visit to the auditorium where the convocation was to be held. Shortly before dinner the Registrar dropped me at the guesthouse, saying he would pick me up at...

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Published on July 20, 2014 02:39 • 142 views

July 12, 2014

In his recent book, History in the Making, J. H. Elliot makes an interesting distinction between two different kinds of nationalist ideologies. On the one hand, there is the ‘chosen nation’ syndrome, where a country is said to have special ‘spiritual, biological, [or] racial’ characteristics’ that shall make it dominant in global affairs. On the other hand, there is the ‘victim nation’ syndrome, where a poor or defeated country tends to attribute its ‘misfortunes to others and to ignore or di...

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Published on July 12, 2014 02:25 • 62 views

June 28, 2014

In forty years of watching international cricket, one of the absolute highlights was an innings I saw by the stocky Sri Lankan Duleep Mendis. This was at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla ground, in the first week of November 1975. Sri Lanka, who had not yet been awarded Test status, were touring India, and playing the North Zone in preparation for the unofficial ‘Tests’ to follow.


Mendis’s father was a cricket fan, naming his son after K. S. Duleepsinhji, nephew of the immortal Ranji. Duleep, who—like...

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Published on June 28, 2014 02:18 • 52 views

June 14, 2014

It was the late D. R. Nagaraj who first told me about Siddalingaiah’s autobiography. We were at Koshy’s Parade’s Café in Bangalore, nursing our respective drinks (rum in his case, coffee in mine), when I said that Indian autobiographies, even the best ones, tended to be too serious. One couldn’t remember a single joke or witticism in the memoirs by, among others, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Nirad C. Chaudhuri. Other Indian self-testimonies I had read—by scientists, civil servants, a...

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Published on June 14, 2014 05:58 • 103 views

June 8, 2014

During the election campaign, Narendra Modi said several times that he wished Vallabhbhai Patel had become India’s first Prime Minister. In Patel’s memory, he promised to built a ‘Statue of Unity’ grander than the Statue of Liberty itself.


Mr Modi never spelt out why he admires Patel so much. I suppose it is because the Sardar was a brilliant administrator; because he was sympathetic to business; because he took a hard line on China; and finally, because if Patel had become Prime Minister, the...

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Published on June 08, 2014 05:47 • 114 views

Ramachandra Guha's Blog

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