What makes India really great

Democracy in indiaAchievements, mistakes and exploitation

The book begins with a kind of funeral speech. The Congress Party is buried. It had a decisive influence on the struggle for independence and the founding of a free, democratic India - but currently it is disappearing into insignificance.

The one in mourning is the author Ramachandra Guha, one of India's most important historians. The American Time Magazine once described him as the outstanding chronicler of Indian democracy. And that's exactly what Guha proves once again with his collection of essays "Democrats and Dissenters". In it Guha outlines the - in his eyes - self-inflicted run-off of the Congress Party - and the associated loss of an important political force in India. In an interview he says: "It was a really great party, but it has been in decline for thirty years now. Corrupted and eaten away. But it founded India. For fifty years the Congress Party played a mostly progressive role. It formed a nation , has cultivated democracy and pluralism, earnestly and conscientiously. "

A party in the stranglehold of the Nehru Gandhi clan

But that's over. Guha describes how dependent the party is on the Nehru Gandhi family. Without this dynasty, the Congress Party threatens to break up; but with her she is no longer eligible for many Indians. They want politicians, Guha says, who work hard and take responsibility. With the surname alone, no election can be won at the federal level. And that was exactly what became clear in 2014 when the Congress Party suffered a serious setback in the general election - and the Hindu nationalist BJP won the election.

Guha expects the right to remain predominant for some time. The problem is that it is mainly right-wing ideologues who dominate the debate who fought for Hindu nationalism and agitated against Muslims and Christians - and thus against critics of all stripes. The author complains that this ascent of the right is taking place without an intellectual compass. There was a lack of conservative intellectuals who would lead the right in the direction of a conservatism that did not get lost in chauvinism and reactionary. Who counts on the nation, not on religion. However, Guha is not inclined to scare tactics. "One should not use an overly alarmist tone. It is disturbing, but not dangerous. Indian democracy will continue. It is robust. It is a competition of ideas, but the experiment itself continues. But there are shortcomings - because of poverty , of fundamentalism. India's democracy has flaws. "

Weighing up the achievements and mistakes of democracy

Guha describes this experiment India in the book as "50-50 democracy". A term that he coined before. 50-50: This stands for the achievements and the mistakes of Indian democracy. The author deals with these in the sixteen essays. But Guha also looks to the Indian neighbors Pakistan and Sri Lanka. As well as China, the great rival in Asia. In these countries, too, Guha is looking for democrats and those who think differently. He also deals with well-known and lesser-known intellectuals. For example with the Indian economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen. Or with the Indian economic historian Dharma Kumar. Some of these essays seem isolated. You have to want to get involved while reading.

Tribal societies had to give way to political progress

In addition to his political discourses, Guha keeps getting concrete. For example when he describes what in his eyes is the greatest failure of this 50-50 democracy. Namely the marginalization of the Adivasi, the indigenous peoples of India. They number around a hundred million people. The majority live in central India. And it is the abundance of local resources that became and will become a tragedy for the Adivasi, according to the author. It is about the resource forest, about rivers for the construction of dams as well as about mineral resources like coal or bauxite. The Adivasi have to give way, almost always without compensation. "The tribal societies of India are the unrecognized victims of seven decades of democratic development. During this time they have been continually exploited and dispossessed by the economy and the state." This tragedy is rarely told in the Indian media, says Guha. He makes them the subject.

In this book, which is well worth reading, Guha outlines the state of India's democracy. In contrast to his sometimes very extensive, renowned works such as "India after Gandhi", the three hundred pages offer an easy introduction. The essays are well-written, coupled with Guha's personal narratives that bring them to life. At the same time, Guha encourages political discourse that goes beyond India. Because the right is not only on the rise in India.

Ramachandra Guha: Democrats and Dissenters
E-book, 317 pages, 15.99 euros.