TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 September 2017
"India is a 50-50 democracy. Its mostly when its comes to elections, freedom of expression and speech.Its not when it comes to Politicians and Political Institutions."
This is an extremely readable History of The Republic of India covers sweeping range topics from Politics, Language, Legislation, Religion, Castes, Secessionist movements, Economics, Wars, Corruption , Foreign policy, Agriculture, Popular Culture and more. Writing Indian history is a formidable task given its multitude of languages, religions, castes, ethnicities, political ideologies. Its had to describe the book on chronological or in a thematic order. Despite the fact the book was written 10 years ago, its still relevant and does the task of educating the reader especially Indian readers(because many don’t read Indian history after 1947). Generally people narrate the story of Republic of India from the top down(i.e. from the centre).The centre story starts with the Prime Ministership of Nehru. Nehru had a formidable task of running the state machinery which was systematically plundered for 200 years followed by a violent partition. In his 16 years in office, he had made tremendous contribution to the nation. According to the writer, if had retired in 1958 Nehru would be remembered as the Greatest Prime Minister of India. Unfortunately, his failures(especially Sino-Indian War 1962) are exploited by politicians even today to polarise voters and has tarnished his image. Nehru has shaped India as much as India shaped him. He implemented Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) Act, Liberated Goa(1961), established Five-Year Plans (inspired by the Soviets), States Reorganisation Act(1956), set the Indian Foreign policy(Non-Alignment movement) in motion. Given the fact that Nehru had to deal with Secessionist movements in Kashmir, North East, influx of refugees from partitions, poverty and broken economy, he has done a great deal of work for the nation. However he died as a broken man following India's defeat in Sino-Indian War.
Lal Bahadur Shastri, succeeded Nehru, held office for 2 years until his mysteriously death in Tashkent.
India Gandhi who succeeded Shahstri had a centralised the line of command with the Congress party in contrast to Nehru(which alienated many seniors within the Congress). She initiated the Green Revolution, Liberated Bangladesh (1971) and turn extreme left with the Nationalisation of Indian Banks. The Opposition and many congress members begin to see Indira as a leader with authoritarian bent. There was fierce opposition from leaders like Jayaprash Narayanan, Moraji Desai to Indira and Sanjay Gandhi. Between 1975 and 1977, Indira declared Emergency. Following the tumultuous period, elections were declared in 1979 and Congress party lost the election. Eccentric Moraji Desai assumed office in 1979 and Charan Singh in 1980. They terribly mismanaged the economy. According to the writer, the only good change brought by them was the new legalisation which ensured that they all not be an emergency in the future. Indira won the office in 1980. She faced difficult time post 1980. She faced Secessionist problem in Punjab demanding for Khalistan and her son Sanjay lost his life in a plan crash. Her elder son Rajiv reluctantly entered politics. Indira was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh Bodyguards following the Operation Bluestar in Golden Temple, Punjab.
When Rajiv Gandhi assumed office in 1984, there were Anti-Sikh Riots in Delhi(following Indira Gandhi’s assassination), Bhopal gas disaster and insurgency in North-East. He initiated reforms to modernise the economy. His inexperience led him to many political blunders in Ayodha dispute, Shah Bano Case and sending Indian Peace keeping Force to Jaffna. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by LTTE in 1991.
Between 1990 and 1991, India had two prime minister V.P Singh and Chandra Sekhar. Congress won the 1991 election following Rajiv’s assassination and P.V. Narasimha Rao assumed office. In 1991, India faced bankruptcy and following the Gulf war(1991) the oil price spiked and India’s foriegn reserves were depleting. Rao appointment Dr. Manmohan Sigh as Finance Minister to initiate the economic liberalisation. Dr. Sigh dismantled the License raj, allowed FDI and made other reforms to the quasi-socialist economy.
In 1996, Congress lost the election and India had three prime minister between 1996 and 1998. In 1998, BJP come to power and Atal Bihari Vajpayee assumed office. Under Vajpayee, India made progress in economic reforms and in particular on defence front. Between 1999 and 2004, there were many tumultuous moments Indian Airline hijack, 2001 parliament attack and 2002 Gujarat riots.
In 2004, Congress led UPA(centre left) coalition won the election headed by Sonia Gandhi. Dr. Manmohan Singh assumed office and initiated reforms RTI, National Rural Employment Act.
The Story from the bottom up is different. Since 1956 there is a rise in regional political parties. CPI(M) in Kerala, DMK & AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, TMC in West Bengal, BSP & SP in Uttar Pradesh, TDP in Andra Pradesh. Increasingly the politics and voices are regional and there is a increase in the decentralisation of power in India. There were many naysayers who predicted the disintegration of India since 1947. Despite all that, India continue to thrive through complex co-ordination between diverse people in the share homeland. I think the writers 50-50 description is an apt one.