Sandip Roy: The magic glue that holds India's democracy together

Roundup: Talking About History

As a schoolboy in India, my Indian history textbooks always ended at midnight on Aug. 14, 1947, when the country became independent. Within a year, Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, was assassinated, and everything after that fell into the realm of political science and current affairs.

In "India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy," historian Ramachandra Guha looks at the 60 years since independence. It is an ambitious work that takes on the world's most unwieldy nation and produces an account that's both remarkably comprehensive and yet totally accessible.
That India is the world's largest democracy is by now almost a cliche. Every general election in India generates colorful stories in the West of democracy in action - ballot boxes borne on elephant-back and the toothless old woman being carried in to cast her vote. The slightly patronizing subtext is a sense of amazed wonder that India has survived as a democracy.
India, Guha writes, was not supposed to last. Winston Churchill predicted that when the British left, India would fall back to "the barbarism and privations of the Middle Ages."

But it's the Soviet Union that fell apart. India, despite hiccups of autocracy, fundamentalism and violent secessionist movements, has survived as a largely secular, if slightly dented, democracy. It has done so without a common religion or language.

Guha does not quite identify the magic glue that holds India ogether (as if it could then be bottled and sold like a curry sauce to other wannabe democracies). He instead uses history to describe the audacious experiment that insisted on a one-person, one-vote democracy, despite a poor and largely illiterate population....

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