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'We take for granted that India is united; we forget the effort'

August 29, 2007

In a fascinating, two-part interview that explores India's 60-year stuggle as a nation, with special applause for its achievement, historian Ramachandra Guha tells Managing Editor (Features) Arthur J Pais why he hopes India will retain its national identity.

Dr Guha, 49, is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, published this month in America by a division of HarperCollins.

Don't miss Part I of this must-read interview

Going back to politics, you write at the beginning of the book that democracy in India will be more significant than comparative experiments in the West. Why is that?

There are two things we must note: First, the sheer size of India is that of a continent. Second, the diversity in the country is even greater than that of a continent. More languages are spoken in India than in Europe. One must also never forget that, unlike in Europe where the different languages all have the same script, be it Spanish, Italian, German, French, Dutch or Portuguese, here each of our languages has a different script. It deepens and complicates the diversity. So you have the size, the diversity, the initial poverty and illiteracy.

Surely, there are many language-related disputes in India, and there have been many ugly incidents. Yet, the linguistic India is a wonderful, remarkable, daring experiment in coexistence. The idea that human beings of different languages, cultures, castes, religions can yet live together in a democratic way is wonderful.

Most countries that became independent from the colonisers can never come close to India's success. Look at Iraq. It has only three groups: Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. They are all Muslims and yet they are fighting so much.

Maybe the success of Indian way of democracy and its secularism is 'fifty-fifty.' Yet, it is a lesson to all of humanity that people can retain their distinctive individuality and culture and yet reach across differences to converse, to dialogue, to cooperate and so on. The Indian experiment must be watched with interest by the rest of the world.

Image: Young Indian women pose with the tricolour as they wait to perform Giddha, a traditional Punjabi folk dance, in Amritsar on August 11, during a rehearsal for Independence Day. Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

Also read: Think of India first: Manmohan Singh
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