Originally written for Rediff.com in January 2012.


Despite being one of the “most interesting countries”, India must stop nurturing ambitions about becoming a superpower nation, historian Ramachandra Guha said on Republic Day during a lecture in London.

The lecture also saw Guha strongly criticise the culture of sycophancy followed in the Congress, DMK, Akali Dal, who he said converted “the political party into the family fund”.

“Today the centre is corrupted and corroded due to scams.”

In his third lecture as part of his series ‘Why India will not and should not become a superpower’, Guha justified his outlook by pointing to left-wing and right-wing extremism, decline of public institutions, unstable geographical neighbours as a few reasons.

On the occasion of Republic Day, Guha addressed a packed hall at the London School of Economics, praising B.R Ambedkar for his contributions as Law minister, but also raising several contentious judgements on the future of what he called the “Indian political experiment”.

Guha also took on the BJP and the RSS, saying Hindu fundamentalism is “temporarily recessive”, adding that the coming month would mark the first ten-year period since 1963 that India would be free of religious violence.

Despite this, he praised Nitish Kumar and Manik Sarkar for their work in Bihar and Tripura respectively towards “minimisation of suffering, rather than maximisation of prosperity.”

He also raised questions of institutional reforms, environmental degradation, apathy of the media and political fragmentation.

The talk of superpower comes from its economic and political success, according to Guha. “We overestimate the capacity of the Indian political class,” he said, adding that there were three kinds of Indians who welcomed the flattery of talks about superpower: politicians, industrialists and newspaper editors and the middle class.

Guha warned that India should not “get seduced by numbers and aggregate growth rate, since they conceal sins”, claiming that most violence created today is by unemployed youth.

Questions were raised over the internal and external factors that restrain India from becoming a superpower. Guha noted of “Un-reconciled Border areas” such as Kashmir, Manipur and Nagaland. He argues majority of them would secede, given a plebiscite.

He insisted that India still required a strong and robust army to protect its borders. Most importantly, Guha said he wished to see India play a proper role in international organisations – suggesting that France and UK should make way for India in the UN Security Council to create “a diverse and more robust UN.”

Never shy of passing judgements, his unabashed comments were peppered with humour, often blurring lines between being humourous and serious.

“India wants one redeemer, the new Mahatma Gandhi, and they think Anna Hazare is one because he puts a photo of Gandhi behind him and fasts. The Congress will say Rahul Gandhi is the integrity of Jawarharlal Nehru with the brains of Albert Einstein, and Narendra Modi will say he is Germany’s Industrial might and racial pride minus the concentration camps,” he said.

Praising the democratic nature of India throughout his lecture, he said: “While most countries practice the election of general, we practice general elections.”

Guha underlined that becoming a superpower, above all, “involves the desire and capability to assert one’s will against other nations, and judging others.” He suggested that India should judge itself against its own standards before it thinks about the next step.