Most of us know – or think we know – a lot about India’s history in the 20th century. Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Emergency and the Kashmir issue. What Guha does admirably well in his narrative is move away from the sanitised schoolbook version of Congress party rule in the first few decades of independence.
And he also brings to life several names that have been forgotten over the years – take for example V.K.Menon, who helped Vallabhbhai Patel convince 554 princely states to join the Indian republic. Or Sukumar Sen, under whose able leadership the country’s first general election was held, defying predictions of anarchy.
What I didn’t like about the last third of Guha’s tome is how it glosses over the 1990s. I wish there had been more of the anecdotes that enrich the book’s first half. But perhaps there is just enough material missing for a detailed sequel called “India After Rajiv”.