India has been lucky to have a continuous political tradition of high quality original thinking that touched every aspect of human condition but much needs to be done to restore it and make it relevant in today's context, noted historian and writer Ramachandra Guha has said.
"India may be unique in having a long tradition of original political and reflective thinking that has been both continuous and continuously of high quality and touched every aspect of the human condition," he said.
Speaking at the fourth Penguin India lecture on "The Indian Political Tradition – And Those Who Made It" based on his new book "Makers of Modern India", Guha said here last night that, "The big idea of India owes itself to a remarkable set of men and women who founded and nurtured the Indian political tradition.
Like in his book, Guha began with reformer Rajarammohun Roy, describing him as one of India's first liberal and modernist who was a "precocious pioneer, swimming against the current, both a thinker and an actor, a scholar and social reformer who confronted an orthodox hierarchical and ossified society by Western thought.
"He pointed out that unlike today, yesteryear thinkers and makers of Indian political tradition had original, compelling and relevant things to say about democracy, nationalism, economic policy, religion, gender, caste, environment and India's relations with the world.
Giving examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jaiprakash Narayan, M S Golwalker and Ram Manohar Lohia, Guha said, "No politician or social reformer in India's political society thinks like them anymore...What should worry us is not that we don't have thinker politicians but the leaders of today are so ignorant of the lineages they claim to represent.
He asked whether Congress MP Rahul Gandhi had ever read letters written by Jawaharlal Nehru to chief ministers, whether the BSP leader Mayawati had read Ambedkar's speeches or whether Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav could name a single book written by Lohia.
Finding other world leaders like French President Nicholas Sarkozy, or British Prime Minister David Cameron or even Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajpakse deficient in original political thinking, he commended US President Barack Obama describing him as "the closest to come to a thinker politician anywhere in the world". Dubbing Obama's predecessor George W Bush as "anti-intellectual" and "anti-scholarly", Guha said even George W Bush knew something about the American political tradition. The historian-author who has bagged a seven-book deal with Penguin that includes a two-volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi described the father of the nation as "mother of all battles concerning social reforms.
"Guha said both Gandhi and Nehru had to confront people with ideologies different from them but they argued cogently. During the lecture, Guha took pot-shots at himself, fellow thinkers and also several ethnic communities in India such as Malayalees, Bengalis, Gujaratis and the Punjabis which left the 700 plus audience in splits.
Guha concluded that the Indian political tradition was not merely an obscurely, or antiquarian or of archival interest but one where the multiple legacy of its thinker activist makers was still available to fulfil and redeem the unhonoured and unfulfilled ideals of a "remarkable political experiment in history."