Ramachandra Guha's Blog

October 14, 2017

In the winter of 1988-9, there occurred what became known as the ‘Rushdie Affair’. Salman Rushdie had just published his novel The Satanic Verses, which orthodox Muslims denounced as having defamed the image of Prophet Muhammad. In Iran, the fundamentalist cleric Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on the writer’s life. In the country of Rushdie’s birth, India, the book was banned by the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. In the country of Rushdie’s domicile, the United Kingdom, the book was bu...

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Published on October 14, 2017 04:55 • 217 views

September 25, 2017

On 15th May 1961, the politician C. Rajagopalachari wrote to the industrialist J. R. D. Tata, asking him to support the newly formed Swatantra Party. A patriot of impeccable pedigree, ‘Rajaji’ had started Swatantra to provide effective opposition to the ruling Congress party, which he saw as insensitive to economic and political realities, and dominated by a single individual (Jawaharlal Nehru). Rajaji knew the House of Tatas had long funded the Congress, but, as he now told J. R. D. Tata, ‘e...

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Published on September 25, 2017 04:49 • 188 views

September 15, 2017

Books set in other countries and published at other times can sometimes be strikingly relevant to India today. This is certainly the case with Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, published in 1963. I first read this book as a doctoral student thirty years ago, and re-read it recently.

As a professor at one of America’s most prestigious universities, Columbia in New York, Hofstadter watched, with fascinated horror, the persecution of scholars and writers by Senator Joe...

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Published on September 15, 2017 22:59 • 191 views

July 7, 2017

In different but complementary ways, the debate on triple talaq, and the debate on cow slaughter, both demonstrate the medievalist mindset of modern India.

Why, when even the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has abolished the pernicious practice of triple talaq, has India not done so? Largely because the leadership of Indian Muslims is in the hands of bigots and reactionaries, not progressives and modernizers.

To to be sure, there have been exceptions, of brave individuals who sought to promote r...

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Published on July 07, 2017 22:25 • 183 views

July 1, 2017

Some years ago, I was at a literary meeting in Bhubaneshwar. Odia had just been declared the sixth classical language in India, after Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. My scholarly hosts were naturally delighted; one taking particular pleasure in imagining how President Pranab Mukherjee felt when he signed the relevant file, since his mother tongue, Bengali, would never remotely be considered a ‘classical’ language.

That conversation came back to me when, last week, the senior C...

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Published on July 01, 2017 22:12 • 105 views

June 9, 2017

In his 1984 book The Untouchable as Himself, the anthropologist R. S. Khare speaks of the derision with which Dalits viewed the term ‘Harijan’, popularized by Mahatma Gandhi. Khare quotes a Chamar reformer in Lucknow as telling him: ‘Harijan means what we can never be allowed to become by the caste Hindu, and what we may not want to be anyway. It was a superficial way for Gandhi to resolve his guilt’.

It is well known that Gandhi himself never used the term ‘Dalit’. It is less well known that...

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Published on June 09, 2017 11:53 • 80 views

April 15, 2017

A hundred years ago this week, Mohandas K. Gandhi arrived in the district of Champaran in north Bihar. He spent several months in the district, studying the problems of the peasantry, who had been forced by European planters to cultivate indigo against their will. Farmers who refused to meet this obligation had their land confiscated.

Through his interventions with the colonial state, Gandhi was able to get substantial concessions for the peasantry. Rents were radically reduced, and the compu...

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Published on April 15, 2017 10:31 • 135 views

March 26, 2017

The ecologist Jayanta Bandyopadhyay once wrote that water, not oil, was the resource whose availability and quality would determine India’s future. I recalled that remark when reading a report recently submitted to the Government of India, entitled, A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms. Rigorously researched and closely agued, this report displays a deep familiarity with social and economic life across India, and offers a set of forward-looking recommendations a...

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Published on March 26, 2017 10:23 • 70 views

March 18, 2017

A line often quoted by columnists, and attributed to the British politician and writer Enoch Powell is this: ‘All political lives end in failure’. The full form of the quote reads: ‘All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.’

The abbreviated form of the quote applies forcefully to four former Prime Ministers of India: Jawaharlal Nehru, P. V. Narasimha Rao,  Atal Behari Vajpayee, an...

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Published on March 18, 2017 10:11 • 122 views

February 4, 2017

On the second day of 2017, I drove from the colonial hill station of Coonoor to the great old port city of Kochi. Thus began a month of almost continuous travel, in which I took many flights, but also spent long stretches on the road, seeing the land from up on high and from  the ground as well. I descended from the mountains to the plains, stayed in large cities and small towns, saw or stopped in numerous villages, and even touched the majestic Indian Ocean.

As a student in school and colleg...

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Published on February 04, 2017 08:51 • 89 views

Ramachandra Guha's Blog

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