In The Armchair

India After Gandhi: Ramachandra Guha

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on June 25, 2009

india After Gandhi - Ram Guha

I’m reading Ramachandra Guha’s great book on the history of India since independence.  I’m only about a third into it, but I can say it is mostly a fascinating read.  Ram Guha seems to see the big picture and writes with balance: that is, he isn’t patently for or against any view and describes history as it happened, not as he wishes people to perceive it.  Unlike most writers and (even more so) our print media, he isn’t “against” any party.

This post isn’t a review of the book.  It’s hard to review such a complex book and there’s really a LOT to say about it — maybe later.  This is just a comment about one meta-level feature of the book.

In Ram Guha’s descriptions and writings, I get the distinct impression that for the first decade and a half after independence, the debates in Parliament were erudite, deep, considered and logical.  The wisdom in the statements men and women made in parliament is apparent.  Whether the arguments were right or wrong, they were products of logical deliberation.  Decisions and arguments for or against them were based on a careful consideration of their long-term effects.

Today the situation seems more mixed.  Even today some decisions are thrown up for debate by ministers who do present detailed arguments about them.  This leads to a civilized debate.  But other bills are promoted simply on noise: the minister shouts long and hard and loud, and the volume of his/her voice seems to be the sole argument for the legislation.  Some legislations are brazen vote-gathering devices, others are blatantly self-serving.

So the quality of debate and legislation in parliament seems to have declined sharply over the decades.  Does it seem this way because Ram Guha, as a historian, chose to focus on the debates of the earlier period and ignore the noise?  Or has there really been a shift in the attitudes of legislators?  I might know by the time I finish the book.

If it is the latter, it is ironic.  At a time when India had low levels of education, we had careful, civilized legislation.  Now that education levels are much improved, we have vote-grabbers and rabble-rousers in parliament.


One Response

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  1. Kaffir said, on July 27, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I think in your last lines, you may be confusing a matriculation/college degree with education. 🙂

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