Ramachandra Guha, arguably the foremost historian of modern India, says the Modi government with Amit Shah as home minister has placed India in a “dangerous, divisive and self-destructive direction”.
He says that the “stigmatisation of Muslims is the most worrying development under Narendra Modi”. Guha adds that “we can no longer boast of India’s democracy”. In 2007, he called India a 50:50 democracy. Now, he says “we are perhaps closer to being a 30:70 democracy”. He agrees that if this trend continues India will soon cease to be a democracy.
Talking specifically about Narendra Modi, Ramachandra Guha says he is “a text book narcissist” and like Narcissus obsessed with himself, his appearance, his clothes, his oratory and his presentation. Ramachandra Guha also says: “Modi is perhaps best described as Indira Gandhi on steroids.”
Ramachandra Guha says that there are two developments that have made the second Modi government “more dangerous” than the first. These are the enhanced and directed stigmatisation and mistreatment of Muslims, and secondly, the fact that Modi is now supported by another strongman who targets Muslims i.e. home minister Amit Shah.
In a 38-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire to mark the launch on January 31 of the third edition of his highly regarded and well-known book India After Gandhi: A History which includes a new chapter and epilogue on the almost nine years of Narendra Modi as prime minister and the government he has given India. Ramachandra Guha made two key points about India since 2019: “The BJP today is India’s sole national party … it is to national politics now what the Congress once was.”
Ramachandra Guha adds “the second conclusion that flowed from the 2019 general elections is that India is becoming ever more of a Hindu country … the most distinctive feature of the Modi government has been its steady reshaping of politics and political discourse in a Hindu idiom.”
In the interview, Ramachandra Guha discusses several aspects of the last nine years. These include the diminution of India’s secularism and its replacement with majoritarianism, Modi’s handling of the economic problems India faces, and the China crisis which Ramachandra Guha calls Modi’s biggest foreign policy failure. He also talks about the impact of the Modi government on India’s constitutional and democratic institutions, the timidity and capitulation of the Supreme Court, the government’s intolerance of dissent and criticism, the failure of the press to stand up and fight back but instead become complicit in majoritarianism, and the massive personality cult that surrounds the Prime Minister. According to Ramachandra Guha’s assessment, “India is experiencing its fourth major crisis since independence”.
This crisis is arguably worse than the earlier three which were the challenge of uniting a divided country, the crisis of wars, drought and famine in the ’60s and the Emergency.
Putting Modi in perspective, Ramachandra Guha says “Modi is perhaps best described as Indira Gandhi on steroids”.
Finally, Ramachandra Guha talks about Mahatma Gandhi because the interview was recorded on January 30, the Mahatma’s 75th death anniversary. He says India has not just forgotten but repudiated Gandhi. However, elsewhere in the world Gandhi is remembered, valued and even cherished.
I have indicated the issues and subjects raised but only in very few instances told you what Guha said in response. This is because I would like you to see the interview for yourself and hear Ramachandra Guha in person.