Guha and the art of not taking a position

Ambedkar and Gandhi at the Round Table Conference, 1931

Ambedkar and Gandhi at the Round Table Conference, 1931

A man who says ‘I am a Hindu and a patriot’, and ‘I love my country’, someone who says Modi is like Chavez, is equally likely to say that Gandhi and Ambedkar need to be embraced together. This is the line the national historian of India Ramachandra Guha has been advocating for a while. In one of his columns, he listed Ambedkar and Pandita Ramabai—figures who were disgusted with Hinduism and chose to leave its fold—as Hindus ‘we’ need to be proud of along with Gandhi and Nehru. It was an offensive suggestion, at best. Guha has been performing ‘Ghar Wapsi’ well before the current thrust of the RSS affiliates which believe anyone born in India is a Hindu.

Since Guha has consistently maintained that India is a “fifty-fifty democracy”, one wonders if the propounder of this philosophy would say the same about embracing Gandhi and Nathuram Godse together, something Modi and the RSS happily go about doing these days. After all, Godse was a brahmin; and Guha once wrote that his tears flow a little more copiously when people of his caste die.

To recover from such doses of unhealthy nationalism, all you need to do is reach for Dr Ambedkar’s classic tract against the ‘saint’, Gandhi: What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables. There’s nothing fifty-fifty about how Ambedkar viewed Gandhi.


  • Karthik Venkatesh says:

    Your comments about Gandhi and Ambedkar to be embraced together are valid as are your comments about regarding Ambedkar and Pandita Ramabai being regarded as Hindus. Of course, Guha’s comments about crying on Rajaji’s death because of his being a TamBrahm are stupid too. But, to stretch it to a Godse and Gandhi embrace is to do Guha an injustice whatever his other faults may be. You are doing yourself and what you stand for a disservice. People are likely to focus on this and this alone. Guha’s other commissions and omissions are likely to be swept under the carpet. I must disagree fundamentally with your line of thinking.

  • Karthik Venkatesh says:

    Your comment about Modi and Chavez is also factually wrong. Guha says Modi’s style is like Chavez though his social and economic thinking is different and he has gone on to make a comparison. If you disagree, state why you disagree. Don’t make such an off-the-cuff remark and make Guha appear stupid just because you disagree with his politics or his view of the world. Don’t ‘sound-bite’ Guha’s arguments. Engage with them and demolish them. Again, you have done yourself a disservice. This is a blog in which disservice to yourself is the guiding spirit. I’m disappointed.

    To reiterate, I’m not a Guha apologist nor am I a fan. I have read his books, agreed with them and disagreed with them. I’m actually a fan of your publishing list and hence, my unease with the views expressed in this blog post.

  • jagdish singh says:

    those who untiringly idolize Gandhi can show no different narrative except reiterating hidden mission of Gandhi, Gandhi never took a firm position on any issue but ‘always sat on the fence’; creating confusing was the art evolved by Gandhi who was even dubbed ‘chameleon’ by Lord Wavell. the followers of Gandhi are as hypocritical as the man himself was throughout his entire public career.

  • Gilligan25 says:

    Nice. I have been very disturbed by Ramchandra Guha and Anaya Vajpeyi, two Brahmin historians, taking this line of thought. What’s more concerning is how they use their power in the media to push forward the book Flaming Feet and Other Essays by D N Nagaraj as THE authoritative version on how to reconcile Gandhi and Ambedkar. Hence any critique of Guha’s and Ananya’s position should be preceded by a through takedown of DN Nagaraj’s book, because that is the book to which these two historians repeatedly turn to theorize Gandhi-Ambedkar unity.

    I first read that book after an article appeared in Caravan. The article, written by Ananya, exhorted readers to read this allegedly brilliant book to get a ‘real’ understanding of Ambedkarite Dalit politics. When I started reading the book, I started feeling highly uncomfortable with the way Nagaraj spoke about Dalits. In many of his anecdotes, he positioned himself as the voice of reason, and painted Dalit activists as angry, stubborn, and incapable of taking suggestions from well-meaning savarnas. This stance appalled me because Nagaraj seemed so unaware of how obnoxious he was sounding. Then, the book has entire essays dedicated to discussing the “self-pity” that Dalits feel for themselves. I mean, by the third chapter, I had to discontinue reading the goddamned book due to its casteism. But now, I understand why Ananya and Guha keep referring to this book when confronted with Ambedkarite politics. Ambedkarite politics threatens them for it questions their right to speak for and to the Dalits. As a result they like Nagaraj’s book, which is a brilliantly astute exercise in sophistry; Nagaraj manages to use language very seductively to hide the yawning epistemological gap that prevails between Ambedkarite ideology and Gandhian ideology. Please, please do a takedown of this book.

    I am also sure that Ananya is going to base her upcoming Ambedkar book on the things she learned from Nagaraj’s book.

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