Year of Publishing: 2010
Historian, author and columnist Ramchandra Guha’s recently published book, Makers of Modern India is a sincere effort at profiling some of India’s most prolific thinkers and doers, whose ideas have had a defining influence in the shaping of our republic. The book – through speeches, articles and essays by these great personalities – tracks Indian’s political, social and cultural history over the last two centuries, giving the reader a comprehensive idea of how the country has come to evolve.
In a detailed introduction, Guha talks about how political activism has mostly gone hand in hand with theoretical reflection in our country, and most of its greatest thinkers have all been in the thick of political action. This is of course not unique to India. But one of the reasons that makes the compilation of such a book a worthwhile exercise is because many of those ideas remain relevant to present day India, says Guha.
Among the 19 individuals chosen by the author, there are the obvious names of course. But on first glance, there are several others who seem to be missing from the list. In the introduction, the author explains his choices clearly. Two iconic leaders of Indian national struggle, Vallabhhai Patel and Subhash Chandra Bose are not included, and Guha says this was owning to the paucity of original ideas contained in their published works and because both were ‘out and out doers’. The others missing are either because their ‘influenced has passed’ with age or because their ideas didn’t extend far beyond a certain class. The Indian Marxist finds no representation and Guha explains why -- their work has been derivative and no novel contributions have been made to the ideas of Mao and Lenin.
So the men and women who Guha handpicks are not all of the same stature, and some of them are little known, but altogether, the book covers a great deal and thoroughly represents India through its many stages and movements. While the book comprehensively looks into and dedicates several pages to its two greatest national leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, it also brings to focus thinkers like Hamid Dalwai, Tarabai Shinde and some others who got unjustly forgotten.
Guha introduces every personality at the beginning of a chapter, before reproducing excerpts of their speeches and essays. Many of the themes do find a resonance to the times we live in. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s explosive speeches talk about why it is imperative for Indian Muslims to have a separate Pakistan. “Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literature….they have different epics, different heroes and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and likewise, their victories and defeats overlap.”
Some of the most insightful thoughts come from C Rajagopalachari, first attorney general of India and CM of Tamil Nadu. His essays talk about the acute need for a strong Opposition to make parliamentary democracy effective. This was the time when Congress party was enjoying an unrivalled reign in the 50s and 60s. He also debates with much acuity on why English, and not Hindi, must be the national language.
All these themes are bound to touch a chord among today’s readers. At 537 pages, the book is a valuable addition to the repertoire of non-fiction writing in India.