What Chetan Bhagat is to Indian writing in English, Ram Guha is to popular modern history. Unlike the Bhagat though, Mr. Guha is an ISO-certified intellectual where ISO stands for Intellectual Standards Organization, that august body to which I somehow someday hope to gain admittance. Hoping to get some tips and tricks, I sat through his interview on a popular English news channel, and I can say with confidence, I came away enriched.
Mr. Guha’s basic contention, which I am presuming is explicated further in his new book that he was promoting, was that India is more intolerant than at any time it has been since Emergency. Now I was tempted to say that the very fact that he is on saying this on TV contradicts his assertion of suppression of free speech, since at one point, he even brings up Pakistan and North Korea, to imply we are only marginally better than them. I also felt that pinning Canada and Sweden as examples of what we should aspire to be in terms of a liberal society was rather silly, given that these two countries have nothing of the demographics, diversity and history that we have, and that Ram Guha, being a historian should know that most of all, but then I told myself “zyara bhavnao ko samjho” and moved on. Though really I could not move on, perhaps because I think of intolerance as a systemic problem in Indian politics and social life, not one for which one political party can be singled out for, a malaise which draws sustenance from poor protections for free speech afforded by our Constitution, which allows people to be arrested for forwarding cartoons or making social media posts, a Constitution which, surprise of surprises, Guha’s heroes, Nehru and Ambedkar wrote up.
But then what do I know? I am just a struggling author with no bully pulpit, and no TV channel to promote my book.