This is the latest book of R. Guha. I have read many of his books and translated one of his books into Tamil. I may have some soft corner for the author because I like his books.
This book is a colelction of essays on some of the political questions. One of them is about the long life and lingering death of Indian National Congress. In his assessment INC may disappear if it continues in the present form and with present leadership. He cherishes the ideals which inspired the leaders of INC before and immediately after independence. But as a reader I feel that whether INC lives or dies, there would always be some political formation that would carry on with the principles for which Congress fought because they were in the political arena not because Gandhi or Nehru Espoused them, but these are fundemental principles which will crop up in a nation like India with multiple identities. Even BJP may appropriate some of the principles and policies of Congress in this regard other India as a nation may not survive with a single identity.
Other essays cover some fothe issues thata need attention in India. In most of his essays R. Guha, engages with the existing political myths and gives a contrarian point of view with available evidence. These are informative and as usual written in a simple style and for this alone the author has to be appreciated. He also does not reduce everything into binaries like some of the political pundits. His arguments are always nuanced. Some of the topics included are about China, Pakistan, Democracy and Violence in India, Srilanka and beyond and Tribals affairs.
Part II of the book discusses about some of the individuals who in his opinion have contributed to better understanding of the problems in the world.
The essay about Dharmanand Kosambi is the best ( and forme, the uninformed about his contributions, eyeopening). The efforts made by Kosambi for studiying Buddhism and his contribution in this field have all been well brought out. This really kindled my interest in his books. I have decided that I shoiuild read at least some of his books about Buddhism.
The essays on Andre Betelle, Dharma Kumar and UR Anantha Murthy make an excellent reading and informative. I particularly noted that Dharma Kumar had established the fact that the status of peasants was not better in the pre British era than it was during British Rule as some of the historians make us believe, particularly in her area of study i.e. South India. She had contested the view of marxist indian historians who tried to put indian history in only the anti-colonial framework and ignored what went before.
As for A. Sen’s book ‘Argumentative Indian, which I have read, R. Guha points out that Sen’s premise that we could trace the elements of multi religious cultural understanding in India’s past is not correct. In my understanding a modoern concept like Secularism cannot be read into the administrative principles of Ashoka or Akbar or that the debates between various sects cannot be equated with any modern thought process. Both the points of view are facinating. A.Sen’s essay points out the continuity in thought and R. Guha’s mentions about the discontinuity. Truth may be somewhere in between.
Altogether, a book after reading which I felt better informed about the indian society and intellectuals.