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On India's Rise, A More Measured View

Ramachandra Guha in Hong Kong on Mar. 12, 2010. (Asia Society Hong Kong Center)
by wpoon
12 March 2010

HONG KONG, March 12, 2010 - As part of the 2010 Man
Hong Kong International Literary Festival, author, historian, and intellectual
Ramachandra Guha discussed the past,
present, and future of India with Asian Editor of TIME International Zoher

Author of
the international bestseller India After
, Guha is cynical
about India's
becoming a superpower at a time when all eyes are on that country and China. "Because we are so interesting and so diverse, and so
unique as a political experiment, it's never going to conquer the world, our
journey is always going to be a rocky ride," he told listeners. In Guha's opinion, wounds in India—namely, ground rules of access, political
conflicts caused by inequality, by caste, language, and religious divides—have to
be healed first; Indians
have to think of themselves as a nation before they can begin to think about
taking on the world.

The historian cited
poor leadership as the primary roadblock to India's rise to stardom,
explaining that "We don't need a magic-bullet solution of one leader, we need
many leaders, there are some very fine state chief ministers." As an
entire generation of new leaders takes office, he continued, India has to
seriously think about de-forming its chief political parties to allow for good leadership to emerge. Further, with multiple sources of
leadership emerging from lower levels of society, Guha doesn't believe
that India has to wait for
another crisis or another Gandhi to motivate the younger generation to address its indecisive governance.

When asked whether Mahatma Gandhi had failed to build the new India that he truly wanted, Guha answered that at that time mobilizing a nation in the
making against a foreign colonizer was easier than building a viable nation-state out of so many diverse elements.
could have easily divided by castes, religions, and geography; it did not do so, Guha argued, on account of Gandhi's visionary understanding.

According to Guha, Gandhi's other gift was
that he could make leaders out of followers. "His notion of a village
economy was romantic, and I think he was sensible enough to recognize that most
Indians didn't want it. Which is why he chose Nehru as his successor." Gandhi didn't fail, in Guha's view, but some aspects of his thought are  no longer relevant
today and should be reevaluated. 

Never having visited China, Guha didn't feel that he was in a position to comment on India's relations with it. Personally, he said, he viewed China and India as two close friends
who'd had a falling out, and were in the process of patching things up to resume a normal
relationship. As for Pakistan,
Guha noted sympathetically that it was dealt a "very bad deck of cards" by history. Civil wars not only left it burdened with refugees, but Western countries also turned a blind eye to the growing
fundamentalism in Pakistani society.

While Guha believes the Indian army is
too smart to enter into politics, he reiterated his view from India After
"so long as Pakistan exists,
there will be Hindu fundamentalism in India. If the political leadership
is determined and resolute, Hindu fundamentalism will be marginally recessive—if it gets weak, it will rise again."

Since Guha wrote his book, however, India's political landscape has changed enough that he now believes that even if Pakistan were to become Islamic
fundamentalist, the society at large in India has decided against Hindu
fundamentalism, as the middle class in particular sees that Hindu
fundamentalism destroys economic opportunities.

Reported by Winsome Tam, Asia Society
Hong Kong Center