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From writing history to becoming a part: How Ramachandra Guha became face of CAA protests

Historian Ramachandra Guha fights his battles more with words. Which is why when he hit the streets to protest CAA, it seemingly shook even the BJP.

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When Ramachandra Guha, one of India’s foremost historians and public intellectuals, was dragged and then detained by the Bengaluru Police on 19 December for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Twitterverse exploded with outrage.

Academics, journalists, politicians, and even business people expressed shock that an eminent personality like Guha was denied speaking to the press and whisked away by the police. Guha, 61, was accosted mid-sentence, on camera, by a group of policemen who literally dragged him away, even as he nearly lost his balance.

With the video going viral with visuals of his detention being widely telecast on TV channels or shared on social media and WhatsApp groups, Guha became a popular face of the nationwide protests against the CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC). This is why Ramachandra Guha is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

Also read: ‘For how long will you test a Muslim’s patience’ — academics say CAA protests to intensify

Fighting with words 

Guha’s early works as a historian revolved around India’s ecology and environment, but he is better known as a biographer of Mahatma Gandhi – and it is here that his antagonism with the Narendra Modi-led BJP government begins. Guha hasn’t shied away from claiming that the BJP has “appropriated” Gandhi to further its own political objectives. The BJP, in turn, has labelled him an ‘Urban Naxal’.

Like most liberal intellectuals, Guha fights his battles more with words than performative action. Before the CAA was passed, for example, Guha wrote op-eds calling it “blatantly communal”, put out tweets likening Home Minister Amit Shah’s push for the law to Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory, and signed petitions demanding that it be revoked.

Guha also made himself heard on TV, where he is greatly sought after by primetime channels and regularly gives interviews criticising the BJP and its version of Indian history. In an interview to NDTV before the citizenship bill became a law, Guha said: “Those who believe fusing religion into State powers and State laws will lead us to a prosperous India needn’t look further than Pakistan.”

Usually, Guha’s dissent is spelled out in the editorial pages of Hindustan Times or The Telegraph or The Indian Express – where personalities like Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Romila Thapar keep him company – rather than on the streets.

Perhaps this is why watching him being yanked away by policemen on the streets finally shook the conscience of India’s educated class.

Guha hitting the streets has shaken up even the BJP, or so it seems, as the party’s Karnataka unit put out a tweet on his detention from its verified handle: “#UrbanNaxals who operate in a Dark World are completely unknown to the Common Man. They make their presence felt through inciting violence & organizing protests at the behest of their Masters. They are getting exposed now.”


After being released, Guha, speaking to NDTV, called the move to impose Section 144, under which he was detained, as “paranoid, fearful and insecure”.

“We have been through difficult times before, like Gandhi’s death, the Emergency in the 1970s, the riots in the 1990s riots. This is the fourth major crisis in the country. We will get out of this but only if we are patient and work in a non-violent way,” he said.

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  1. “became face of CAA protests”… Really? Ramchandra Guha may be the columnist’s history professor or personal idol, but this kind of flattery – – or “Chamcha-Giri” in Hindi – – sounds jarring to the ears. I haven’t been following him, but isn’t he the gentleman who also writes books on cricketers and present-day account of some situations which will become “history” down the line, but are presently a cakewalk to write about because of ample availability of material and therefore not needing any assiduous research? Sorry, if I’m mistaken. No offense meant.

  2. I wonder what these old gen nuisance makers were doing when the country was being strangled with socialism for decades.

    • Was “the country was being strangled with socialism for decades”? How? India is a socialist country by its very constitution, which describes it as “SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF INDIA”!

  3. The uncivil way in which Guha was physically dragged away by the Karnataka government’s(BJP government) police will remain etched for ever in the memory of all law abiding citizens for Guha had not violated section 144 and was not even addressing people . Guha’s dragging by the police seems to be a threat or warning to all those people , who dare disagree with the policies of the government. It is shame that so-called ” intellectuals” who are supporting the central government have not “found” time to condemn the dragging away of Guha by the police

  4. Today Guha at the best is a political activist highly hateful of Modi, BJP , RSS and all those who don’t agree with him. Like all librandus, he seems have lost easy source of income and desperately wants return of corrupt Congress rule.

  5. Protest against CAA are turning into a war against Hindus and Hindu culture. Then Congress supporters and those on payroll of Congress can not sit in their homes. But be assured Modi will get more Hindu votes and no one can stop congress from going into oblivion.

    • Perhaps you should explain why you think the anti CAA protest is an anti Hindu movement. Not sure where you are getting the idea that Hindus are not part of the anti-CAA protest. Also again I am not sure how you have concluded that the Congress is behind this movement. It is quite apparent that the Congress is being its usual opportunistics self. It is trying to to get a free ride on a spontaneous movement which started and gained strength without its input. Nobody is going to be fooled by the Congress just as nobody is going to be fooled by the BJP.

      It appears that it is not the CAA alone that is causing the opportions, but instead a combination of the CAA and the CRC. that is sparking the outrage. The reasons for that have been articulated in all media. Please do your research.

      What is the way forward from here ? There needs to be discussions between both sides. The protesters must stop the anti-social elements from infiltrating their protests for the sole purpose of causing violence and vandalism. Violence by any side cannot be justified. The protesters should remain peaceful.. Guha was doing .just that, before he was hauled away. You can see the video if you want.

      The government should also abandon its policy to act first and think later. There are merits and demerits to its Bills. If the government had thoroughly engaged all members of society in evaluating the bills, I am certain that a much better thought out bills would have been created which would have been acceptable to all. Instead they used their brute majority in Parliament to ram through the bill and now there has been a fierce backlash, they have begun back-tracking and trying to explain away the flaws of the bill and how its distortions will be diluted etc. So NOW they want to engage the public and explain their stance AFTER the protests flared up.. It would have been so much better, if they had the common sense to engage the public BEFORE introducing the bill..

      Anyway let us hope there is a peaceful resolution to this issue so that we can all move on work together to fight the biggest danger the country is facing: which is the collapsing economy

  6. These few well meaning individuals can’t stop the tide of history. This Epidemic will eventually take its toll and then ebb.

  7. The terms “Historian and public intellectual” makes the person a suspect, especially after other eminent historians of JNU tribe gave false evidence before Allahabad HC in Ramjanmabhumi case and were caught and castigated by the HC. Ramachandra Guha is neither a good historian, nor a good protestor. After the demise of UPA he was out of circulation. CAA has given him good basis for getting back into circulation.

    • “The terms “Historian and public intellectual” makes the person a suspect.”

      A suspect in what crime–thinking independently? And on what basis do you claim Guha is not a good historian? What specific historical arguments of his are you challenging? Perhaps you can inform us by citing the appropriate pages of Guha’s books, which I’m sure you’ve read thoroughly. Also, since you are an expert in history, please tell on what aspect of Indian history have you written your PhD and from which university? it’s clear that the BJP internet brigade lacks any intellectual merit and cannot even find people with decent educational credentials to work for them. The RBI, for example, is headed by a moron with no training in economics. But I suppose the absence of intellectual ability work for you, since it’s easier for the PMO’s office. to brainwash and control uneducated people. #Acchedin

      • Damn S. Baksh!! You knocked that right out. I suggest you also take a glance of the recent paper by Shawn Rosenberg of UC Irvine (Democracy Devouring Itself: The Rise of the Incompetent Citizen and the Appeal of Right
        Wing Populism). This paper highlights as to why it is necessary for right wing populists to delegitimize the intellectual people to keep their reign of hate going.

    • Guha has been a neutral and professional historian, and a liberal thinker. Nothing wrong in protesting if he feels strongly about an issue. He is just on the other side of the divide that separates him from 1000 academicians etc.

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