India After Gandhi | Ramachandra Guha

Summary of: India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, 10th anniversary edition
By: Ramachandra Guha


India After Gandhi delves into the country’s extraordinary journey to become the world’s largest democracy. This comprehensive account takes a deep dive into the undercurrents of British colonization and addresses the skepticism surrounding India’s capability for self-governance. As you explore the creation of India’s Republic, the book also highlights its vast diversity, its struggle for independence, and the founding of the Indian National Congress. Unfolding events reveal the iconic role of Gandhi in India’s unification and the surprising outcomes of the country’s first general election. The unfolding narrative includes India’s relations with the US and USSR, its economic and societal transformations, and the tales of political successors.

India’s Journey to Independence

India’s transformation from British rule to an independent republic in 1947 was a remarkable and complex feat with historical significance. The British Raj, which had dominated the country since 1857, came under heavy opposition from the Indian National Congress, who believed in the viability of India as an independent state. Despite British skepticism and predictions of chaos, the Indian independence movement persisted, and eventually succeeded. The diverse regions of India, including princely states, were united for the first time, marking a significant historical achievement for India. This transformation was one of the greatest experiments in democracy of the modern era, following the French and American revolutions.

The Tragic Partition of India

The book delves into the aftermath of India’s independence from British rule,
focusing on the religious tensions that led to the separation of Pakistan and the birth of
India as a secular nation-state. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League,
called for a separate Muslim state, while Mahatma Gandhi sought to unite all Indians,
regardless of their religion. Religious violence ensued, leading to the division of the
country. Gandhi’s efforts at peacekeeping were unsuccessful, and millions of refugees
migrated between the two new nations, causing one of the largest migrations in history.
Gandhi continued to promote non-violence and attempted to stop the migration and
violence, but he was assassinated by a Hindu extremist who opposed his efforts to
protect Indian Muslims.

The Blame Game of Indian Partition

The decision to partition India was a consequence of multiple factors involving the British, INC, and Indian Muslim politicians. The British exacerbated the communal tensions, Muslims were marginalized in British-organized elections, while the INC failed to recognize the Muslim League’s political overtures. Jinnah, the leader of Muslim League, championed for an independent state of Pakistan, and his party’s victory in 1946 provincial elections laid the groundwork for dividing India. The process of partition entailed drawing borders on maps and redistributing populations along religious lines, causing the largest migration in human history. The region of Jammu and Kashmir, a significant strategic location, emerged as a flashpoint of conflict between India and Pakistan after independence.

The Unresolved Conflict in Jammu and Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir, once a Switzerland-like neutral state, has been the arena of an unresolved conflict between India and Pakistan for over seven decades. The region’s troubles began when it gained independence in 1947 and a small group of pro-Pakistan rebels attacked the prince’s forces. Later that year, Pakistani raiders invaded the region, taking control of the state’s capital, Srinagar, and slaughtering non-Muslim and Muslim civilians alike. The Hindu prince knew that he had no other choice than to ask India for military help, which led to India’s intervention. The United Nations was called in, and Nehru and Jinnah argued for a plebiscite to allow the people of Jammu and Kashmir to choose which nation they would join. However, the inability to agree on an interim administration led to a stalemate, which still persists today. The unofficial “Line of Control” remains the de facto border between Pakistan and Indian-ruled Jammu and Kashmir. Despite numerous attempts at resolution, the conflict remains unresolved, leaving the region in a state of ongoing tension.

India’s Refugee Crisis and Constitutional Revolution

Millions of non-Muslim refugees settled on the Indian side after India’s partition in 1947. The Indian government began allotting land for the refugees and also drafted a constitution to achieve national and social revolutions, allowing democracy, liberty, and equality for all citizens. The constitution reserved seats for the Untouchables, India’s lowest caste, and gave women the right to vote for the first time. The constitution was considered the most crucial political project since the signing of the American constitution, guaranteeing universal suffrage for the nation.

In 1947, India’s partition resulted in millions of non-Muslim refugees settling on the Indian side. The refugee crisis was a massive challenge for the new nation, with refugee camps being set up everywhere, accommodating over eight million refugees. However, the Indian government began allotting land to these refugees that was abandoned by Muslim refugees who had fled to Pakistan. By November 1949, 250,000 new allotments were created across east Punjab for the refugee arrivals.

The Indian government also drafted a constitution between December 1946 to December 1949 that accommodated all citizens in what was considered the most crucial political project since the signing of the American constitution. The constitution aimed to achieve twin revolutions; one national and one social. The national revolution was to establish democracy and liberty for all citizens, while the social revolution aimed to emancipate women and the lower castes. As a result, women were given voting rights, and all religions had equal standing in the face of the law.

The constitution also reserved seats for the lowest caste, the Untouchables, who had faced persistent discrimination over the centuries. Though the wounds of partition and the Kashmiri stalemate made life difficult for Nehru and the INC, they managed to guarantee universal suffrage. The Indian constitution was a historical achievement that secured democracy, liberty, and equality for all citizens.

India Proves Democracy Is Possible

In 1952, India held its first general election, defying the belief that democracy couldn’t work in the country. Despite the challenges of illiteracy and poverty, an innovative voting system using symbols and novel advertising methods contributed to the success of the election. Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of the Indian National Congress, won a majority in parliament and began to implement his party’s political program. However, India’s neutrality during the Cold War and its socialist policies strained its relationship with the United States, while its ties with the Soviet Union strengthened. Overall, India’s successful election proved that democracy was possible in the country despite earlier predictions of partition and chaos.

India’s Modernization Journey

India’s journey towards modernization under Nehru’s leadership involved economic and social reforms that aimed to make the country self-sufficient. The Five-Year Plans focused on agricultural reform, massive dam construction, land reform bills, and rapid industrial expansion. The state played a key role in managing energy, iron, steel, and other major industries, while the private sector concentrated on producing consumer goods. The plans were successful, with GDP increasing 3.6% and meeting most of the growth targets. In addition, India’s constitution supported women’s and minority rights, including the right for women to choose their partners and inherit property equally with men, as well as reversing years of discrimination against the Scheduled Castes. These policies helped Nehru and the Indian National Congress win a majority of the Scheduled Castes seats in the 1957 election.

India’s Troubles in the Late 1950s

The aftermath of the 1957 national election in India saw changes in the country’s state governments due to regional opposition. One of the state governments taken over by the Communist Party of India implemented rapid reforms that threatened the power of landowners and religious groups. Prime Minister Nehru was forced to dismiss the state government, despite believing in the reforms. In addition to this political crisis, worsening relations with China regarding territorial disputes in Tibet and along their shared border led to border clashes and a brief war in 1962, which resulted in India’s loss of territory and damaged its self-image.

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