In Open, Hartosh Singh Bal interviews Ramachandra Guha on his new book, Makers Of Modern India:
Q How would you define modern India?
A Some have argued for 1858, the year after the Mutiny, when the British take direct control of India. But I go further back. For me, modern India begins in the early 19th century. The industrial revolution has taken place at the end of the 18th century and the ideas of democracy and nationalism are emerging at this time.
Q Do you think your choice of 19 thinkers will arouse many passions, raise many questions?
A A very dear friend of mine, an IIT and IIM graduate, works with the poorest Adivasis in West Bengal and has set up an ashram for tribal children. His reaction was, why is Vivekananda not there? Swami Agnivesh, a man I greatly respect, called me and said, why is Dayanand Saraswati not on the list? I think Gandhi supercedes Vivekananda, and then, it is difficult to relate to Vivekananda’s writing, his archaic and exhortative prose. So, this is a book that certainly reflects my biases.
Q Could I run through four names that do not figure in the list and try and understand why they were left out? a) EMS Namboodiripad, for making it possible for Marxists to co-exist with democracy.
A Namboodiripad calls for a good biographer. It would be enlightening to read the story of a Congressman—in fact, a landlord who joins the Congress—and then joins the Marxists. His writings on social and economic matters are voluminous, but they are not impressive. I did look closely at another Marxist, MN Roy, who is a slightly better stylist, but again he is not original. More: