Ramachandra Guha – A Profile

Ramachandra Guha is born on 29 April 1958 in a Tamil Brahmin family at Dehradun. His father was Subramaniam Ramdas Guha and mother Vishalakshi, a school teacher. He is the great grandson of Mysore’s S. Ramaswamy Iyer, the first Advocate-General of Mysore. His grandfather is named after Bhima of Mahabharata. He was brought up in Dehradun, where his father Subramaniam Ramdas Guha worked at the Forest Research Institute.  His sister is Dr. Vani Ramkumar. Guha is married to the graphic designer Sujata Keshavan and has two children – Keshava and Iravati.

Ramachandra Guha with his wife Sujata Keshavan

He is currently considered as a contemporary Indian historian and writer in the fields of environment, sociology, political affairs, and cricket history. He is also a columnist for The Telegraph and Hindustan Times. Guha has also written for The Caravan and Outlook magazines.  He has written books on history of forestry and Gandhi, articles on a wide range of topics. He was appointed to BCCI’s panel of administrators by the Supreme Court of India on 30 January 2017, but he resigned in July of the same year.

Guha studied at Cambrian Hall and The Doon School, graduated from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1977, and completed his master’s in economics from the Delhi School of Economics. He completed his fellowship programme (equivalent to a PhD) on the social history of forestry in Uttarakhand from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. He taught in universities of India, EU and North America. Guha then moved to Bangalore, and began writing full-time. He is managing trustee of the New India Foundation, a nonprofit body that was supported by Nandan Nilekani to fund research on modern Indian history. Guha has authored the chapter “The VHP Needs To Hear The Condemnation Of The Hindu Middle Ground” in the book “Gujarat: The making of a tragedy”, which was edited by Siddharth Varadarajan and published by Penguin (ISBN 978-0143029014). The book is about the 2002 Gujarat riots. His book titled ‘India after Gandhi’, published by Macmillan and Ecco in 2007. This book has been translated into Hindi (published by Penguin), Tamil (by by Kizhakku and translated by R. P. Sarathy) and Bengali (published by Ananda Publishers Private Limited and translated by Ashish Lahiri). On Guruji Golwalkar, Guha wrote an article in The Hindu with a title “Golwalkar- The Guru Of Hate” on 28th November 2006. Guha is also an outspoken commentator on the Indian national cricket team, being particularly vociferous in his opinions on current captain, Virat Kohli.

Ramachandra Guha has received the Leopold-Hidy Prize of the American Society of Environmental History, the Daily Telegraph/Cricket Society prize, the Malcolm Adideshiah Award for excellence in social science research, the Ramnath Goenka Prize for excellence in journalism, the Sahitya Akademi Award, and the Fukuoka Prize for contributions to Asian studies. He is also recipient of Padma Bhushan award in 2009.

Although it appears that marriages within Guha family is generally traditional in nature, a magazine article has reported that Guha’s father did not wear janeu and his maternal uncle married a German lady. There are also reports that state that during the student days Ramachandra Guha was influenced by Leftists and subscribed to Marxism. Apparently, he became a non-vegetarian during the school days at Doon School. Ramachandra Guha is also known for his overenthusiasm in criticizing Brahmins.

Guha is supportive of Congress in general and Nehru in particular. His support is evident from the talks he delivered as part of his tenure with Philippe Roman Chair of International Affairs and History at the London School of Economics for 2011–12. Philippe Roman Chair holders need to use their tenure of one year to explore an idea or theme in history and international affairs. They need to give a series of four public lectures and teach a seminar for students. During his tenure, Ramachandra Guha in his second talk, defended Nehru and attempted to absolve him from defeat of China war 1962. His first talk viewed Gandhi as controversial. His fourth talk was directed to viewing the game of Cricket as an expression of Colonial and post-colonial India. To top it all, the third of the four talks he delivered gave ten reasons why India will Not and should not become a superpower. When the whole world was projecting 21st century as the century of India (and China), Ramachandra Guha was arguing that the Indian political class and intellectual elite would do well to focus on the fissures and challenges within. Ramachandra Guha has also attempted to absolve Winston Churchill from the deaths of 3-4 million people in the Bengal Famine of 1943.

In May 2018, in the aftermath of brutal assault on Vidwat by Mohammad Nalapad, the son of Congress MLA Harris, Ramachandra Guha expressed his opinion in support of Vidvat. The  public opinion was so strong against Nalapad that Congress leadership found it difficult to give ticket to his father Harris for the assembly elections.  Eventually, at the last minute, the Congress decided to announce ticket to Harris from Shantinagar assembly segment. Ramachandra Guha maintained silence at that juncture and failed to oppose criminal trend in public life. Harris won the elections and it appeared that Guha eventually ensured electoral interest of Congress.

Ramachandra Guha has supported T. M. Krishna who is blaming Brahmins for dominating Carnatic Music,  and is sympathetic towards anti-Hindus who insisted their right to consume beef. He has  criticised M.S.Golwalkar, the second chief of RSS, and Narendra Modi, the most popular Prime Minister of India and Virat Kohli, the cricketer with explicit nationalistic leanings.  Ramachandra Guha is also critical of cultural nationalism and opposes BJP. He had advised Rahul Gandhi, the president of Congress and advocated assigning Congress leadership to a member of non-Gandhi family members. Some of his recent public views have created controversies. On December 10, 2018, Guha posted a tweet of poor taste supporting beef eating and later deleted it after severe criticism on social media. On 1st July 2019, Guha announced his appointment as Satish Dhavan Visiting Professor for a duration of one year on twitter and immediately received hundreds of comments in reply. Satish Dhawan Chair was stablished in 1996 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in the field of Engineering Sciences, having relevance to Space Science & Technology. The decision of administration of the Indian Institute of Science to appoint a historian to the position of Science and Technology chair was questioned by former students, and scientific community. Many people also questioned Ramachandra Guha about his credentials and inconsistent stance in accepting the position and his strong political biases.

In the past, Ramachandra Guha has opposed nuclear test conducted by Vajapayee government. He participated in a panel discussion hosted by leftists in the IISc campus and attempted to pass a resolution against the initiative of the then Union government. In general he is critical of Hindu political initiatives and social norms. Recently, he articulated his support to liberal views and right of individuals to eat, dress and fall in love as they choose against the wishes of the family and community to which they belong.

Guha is connected to Siddhartha Varadarajan, T.M.Krishna, Jignesh Mewani, Prashanth Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Ashutosh Varshney, Devdutt Pattanaik, Medha Patkar, Irfan Habib, Suhasini Haider, Burkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghosh, Rajdeep Sardesai on social media and appreciative of the EPW, the Wire, Scroll.in, NDTV, and the Caravan. It is also reported that Guha is influenced by George Orwell, a writer but a womanizer, H. L. Mencken, an atheist,  Marc Bloch, an agnostic historian, E. P. Thompson, a Marxist writer and the nature writer M. Krishnan.