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New Left Review 56, March-April 2009


SUMIT SARKAR

THE STATE OF INDIA

Given the extraordinary proliferation of historians and historiographies in contemporary India, it seems astonishing that Ramachandra Guha’s is the first attempt at a national history of the country since Independence. [1] Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, Macmillan: London 2007, £25, hardback, 900 pp, 978 0 230 01654 5. As he points out, ‘modern’ Indian history conventionally stops in 1947. There has, of course, been a vast amount of analysis of the country’s development since then. But this has generally focused on specific themes or institutions—communalism, political parties (above all, the Congress), caste, peasant studies, regionalism, urbanization, and so forth. For their part, historians have paid a great deal of attention to the ruptures and continuities of the colonial era and to the nationalist movement in the formative 1857–1947 period, while the Subaltern Studies tradition has tended to concentrate on micro-research, often at village level. India after Gandhi is thus a breakthrough in Indian historiography: an overview of the country’s post-colonial course spanning some 900 pages. Guha promises to review political, social and economic developments, cultural innovations and popular entertainment, at regional as well as national levels. The final product is more limited than that, but nevertheless both useful and highly readable. A prolific writer, Guha’s first book was The Unquiet Woods in 1989, the fruits of his doctoral research on the environmental social history of the Himalayan forests. He has since produced half a dozen more works in this field, including a global history of environmentalism, and at least as many about cricket. In India after Gandhi, Guha provides a thoughtful survey of the period in fluent, lucid prose.

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