On Patriots & Partisans

Patriots & Partisans, Ramachandra Guha’s latest offering is THE book I have been waiting for a long time. Essentially a collection of essays, the Patriots & Partisans does something few other books have attempted in the recent past, it offers a full blown, virulent defense of Indian liberalism (not liberals mind you). The book is divided into two parts, the first part dealing with a wide range of issues, from right wing hate mail to a fervent defense of Nehru to a fascinating essay on the beauty of compromise; the second part deals with issues of language and culture with the most interesting essays being on the death of the intellectual bilingual and the EPW respectively. 

It is in the first set of essays however that Guha is at his vitriolic best. He launches a broadside against Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, the Hindutva right wing, the Naxalites,  and the various separatist groups while ardently defending the liberal stand of Nehru, Ambedkar, Gandhi, Jayprakash Narayan, Lohia and Rajaji. His aim, in his own words, is to ‘rescue patriotism from the right’. At a time when attacking Nehru has become fashionable, in essay after essay, either directly or indirectly, he defends the Nehruvian idea of India. He takes great pains to point out that it was Indira Gandhi, not Nehru, who founded the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty; that inspite of the glaring foreign policy failure of Nehru during the Indo-China war, it was Nehru who pulled us closer to the Third World and who maintained our strategic independence during the Cold War and finally that inspite of all his faults, this nation could have been born and held together only by someone with the appeal, charisma and idealism of Nehru. Guha blasts both the left wing and the right wing movements as flawed and out of sync with the ‘idea of India’ and staunchly defends the centre, proudly wearing the tag of a ‘bleeding heart liberal’. The single most fascinating essay in this section however deals with what he calls the ‘Beauty of Compromise’, pointing out that every political success in South Asia, whether it be the MNF laying down its arms to the ability of India to remain a democracy is the result of some compromise, a little give and take and both sides ready to leave some of their more hardline demands. He then urges parties in all conflicts in today’s India to take a leaf out of this and reach a ‘compromise’. Finally, Guha trashes the modern Indian liberal, who he says is too afraid to speak up for themselves or is fashionably against everything, the State, the market, the economy, the army and and the police, urging such people to go back to the liberalism of Nehru.

The second part of the book is less scathing and deals mostly with issues relating to academia and language. In this series, The Death of the Bilingual Intellectual, is by far the most fascinating, dealing as it is with the decline of intellectuals in India who can comfortably convey themselves in more than one language, such as Tagore or Girish Karnad, contrasted with the rise of bilingualism in general.

Patriots & Partisans is another must read book from Ramachandra Guha, arguably modern India’s best chronicler, especially for those who call themselves liberals but are too afraid to speak up for themselves and for their beliefs.


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