Ramachandra Guha’s session at Tata Literature Live! was a tad longer than the stipulated 60 minutes, but no one was complaining.
“The republic of India is what I regard as the most recklessly ambitious political experiment in human history,” he said, in one of the numerous zingers with which the renowned historian peppered his talk on politics, history, and ideologies.
He was speaking at the Tata Literative Live! festival, during the launch of his latest book, Democrats and Dissenters, which he called “the fourth in a series of explorations about this reckless political experiment”.
The book was launched by John Horne, historian and professor of Modern European History at Trinity College Dublin.
“Where I come from in Ireland, we like to think history is popular. But I’ve never seen an audience this size for a historian,” Horne said, eliciting laughter from the packed house at NCPA’s Experimental Theatre.
Guha’s book comprises 16 essays, including an analysis of the Indian National Congress — “the title is ‘The Long Life and Lingering Death of the Indian National Congress” he told an amused audience — and another titled ‘Tribal Tragedies in Independent India’.
“Tribals have been shafted by successful political regimes in New Delhi and other states,” Guha said. “While Dalits and Muslims may be unequal citizens of our country, their predicament and concerns are talked about and debated... By all objective indicators, Adivasis are more discriminated against, poorer, and have less access to public resources than both Dalits and Muslims.”
Discussing Indian socialism, he took potshots at both the left and the right.
“In America, leftists wouldn’t identify with their government. But in India, the left wing identified with other governments; first Moscow, then Beijing, then Havana, then Vietnam. And after all these failed, you ended up with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela,” he quipped.
“When the last BJP government was in power, Murli Manohar Joshi was the education minister. Smriti Irani made me nostalgic for MM Joshi,” he continued. “Rahul Gandhi makes me nostalgic for Indira Gandhi. And I never thought I’d say anything nice about Indira Gandhi, leave alone Joshi.”
The audience revelled in the straight talk.
“I’ve read Guha’s Gandhi Before India,” said asset management analyst Priyankar Sarkar. “And I appreciate the fact that he doesn’t distort history, which is so easy to do.”