I began reading India After Gandhi a few days back. The book is 870 pages long and the reading has been very slow. I am only 11% percent done and so far it has been a good read. For me, reading a book is usually accompanied by reading about the author. This reading goes beyond the about-the-author blurb that is part of the book.
Reading about the author involves reading most of the articles that turn up on the first page of a search engine result. This invariably leads to reading various book reviews. I usually postpone all the extra reading till after I complete the book. The main reason is that I don’t want to chance upon spoilers that will ruin the reading experience for me. Another reason is that once I read a review, I tend to be biased and I end up not knowing how I really feel about the book. Also, reading other reviews AFTER I complete the book is a good way, for me, to compare my own thoughts to what others feel about the book.
But with India after Gandhi, things are different. There are no spoilers. Also, the book is extremely long and I am certain that I will take six months to a year to complete it. I cannot wait that long. So I decided to go ahead and read about the author, Ramachandra Guha. In the process, I came across his website today and read some of his essays.
I read three of them, all written in the last three months. I was pleasantly surprised to find that his essays resonated well with how I felt, albeit in a much more well-thought-of way. It has been very hard for me, in the last few years, to find good news articles. Most of the articles I come across are biased, especially regarding the Indian political scene. News articles are either extreme-right or they are extreme-not-right. Even opinions on social media seem to be binary, people either support the ruling party or they don’t. This makes me wonder, maybe people who are neutral don’t voice their opinions as much or everyone in the country has one of ONLY two opinions. I am guessing it is the former. Even leading newspapers seem to be blending opinions and personal bias with the news reporting. This has discouraged me from reading news altogether.
But Guha’s articles were refreshing. Also, it seemed fitting that I read them today, 26th January (IST). Here are a few points that we can reflect on as we celebrate our 67th Republic Day:
- From the article Are We Becoming An Election Only Democracy?
Parliament meets rarely— when it does, it resembles a dusty akhara more than the stately chamber of discussion it was meant to be.
Indian politicians are in danger of reducing our political system to an ‘elections-only democracy’. That, of course, was not how the founders of the Constitution conceived it. They saw elections on a multi-party basis as a crucial, but by no means the only, element of a healthy democracy. Parliament was supposed to be a theatre where policies were proposed, debated, and refined. The judiciary was meant to be an independent check on violations of the Constitution by private parties or public bodies. A free press and active civil society were meant to act as a mirror to where India was, and how Indians were doing.
Assemblies are rarely the venue of informed debate. Ruling party leaders do not take Opposition criticism in good faith. Nor do they respect the press very much either. Once Chief Ministers are elected, they think they can do pretty much as they like until the next elections come around.
2. On Narendra Modi and the RSS:
The Governor of the Reserve Bank of India has argued that an atmosphere of pluralism and tolerance is indispensable for sustained economic growth. This is not a belief that the Prime Minister appears to share. He seeks to be both a cultural reactionary and an economic modernizer, riding two horses at once, one taking him forward, the other pulling him backward.
I hope we can all come together as Indians instead of segregating ourselves and letting politicians and media widen the gap between us.
Happy Republic Day!