Left wing extremism, “the biggest internal threat”, tops Guha's list of 10 hurdles that India has to confront.
“The ten political and social challenges that India has to deal with it are Left wing extremism, religious extremism, corrupt centre, decline of public institutions, growing gap between the rich and the poor, environment degradation, political fragmentation of the Indian electoral system, unreconciled borders, unstable neighbourhoods and apathy of the media,” Guha told a gathering of bureaucrats, diplomats, policy makers, think-tanks, foreign delegates and journalists in the capital Monday.
“India should not try to be a dominant and powerful country, but a less discontented nation,” said the Bangalore-based author of "India After Gandhi".
The social analyst listed left wing and religious extremism as the top two impediments in the country's march ahead.
“As Hindus make up 80 percent of the country's population, the threat of Hindu fundamentalism is also as real as the minority backlash. But the greatest internal security threat is perhaps Left wing extremism,” Guha said.
He was addressing an analytical session on “10 Reasons Why India Cannot and Must Not Become a Superpower”, hosted by the Aspen Institute, a policy think-tank.
Guha attributed the rise of Naxalism in India to two factors - geographical and social.
“In the last nine years, extremism has strengthened and consolidated in the hill and the forest areas of the country because it is easy to conduct guerrilla wars in the hilly terrain,” said Guha, elaborating on the geographical reason.
The social and political factors responsible for the growth of Naxalism were “disadvantage and repression”, the historian said.
“Adivasis do not have an effective political voice, unlike the Dalits whose voices are represented in the public domain. Adivasis in the hills and the forests have lost their land and health and have been displaced by development projects,” Guha said.
He added that tribals comprised only 15-20 percent of the country's population.
“In states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the Dalits formed 25 percent of the population. While tribal votes mattered in 50-60 constituencies, Dalit votes played a part in nearly 300 constituencies. However, historically Dalits and Adivasis were equal partners in nation-building,” Guha said.
The unrest, coupled with corruption in the centre, compounded the situation, he analysed.
“The constraints to energy, talent and initiative were rising in political parties. Jawaharlal Nehru had no desire to make the Congress a family furniture, but post 1970, the party became one,” Guha said.
The historian, who is known to be apolitical, said “he was not liked by the Congress, distrusted by the Left and detested by BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)".
Pointing to the growing gap between the rich and the poor, Guha used the farmers' suicides across the country as an example. “Tens of thousands of farmers were killing themselves everyday. The vicious cycle of debts that they are trapped in could take generations to redeem. The agrarian distress in rural communities has become endemic,” Guha explained.
Along with this chasm between rich and poor is the problem of environmental degradation. “Irrational water pricing has led to rampant exploitation and depletion of ground water. The soil has been contaminated by chemicals and the air is polluted.”
With an apathetic media, unreconciled borders, hostile neighbours and fragmented electoral process, India is a very diverse and complex place. “It is still 80 percent nation and 50 percent democracy,” Guha signed off, quoting from his book, “India After Gandhi”.