The root of the word “liberal” is the Latin “liber” – “free” – and 
since that root is found also in words such as “liberation”, with
 their implicit suggestion of carefree freedom, we tend to 
unconsciously mistake liberalism’s objective with its process. To be 
liberal, we think, is to be easy and relaxed, even blithe. But while
 freedom and tolerance are the goals of liberalism, the process of 
achieving those goals needs effort and dedication. “The price of
 freedom,” Thomas Jefferson once cautioned, “is eternal vigilance.”

In India, where the model of a liberal society has been fantastically
 and precariously crafted by the nation’s founding fathers, there are 
few more vigilant monitors of liberalism than Ramachandra Guha. His 
work as a historian is simultaneously erudite and accessible; his 
writing on cricket is ardent and, for devotees of the sport, highly
 enjoyable; his magazine and newspaper articles provide perspective and 
insight.

However, all of his work is shot through with the portentous
 question of how to keep liberalism – liberal thought and liberal 
action – alive. It is a question that engages his intellect as well as 
his passions; after all, as he once wrote, with contemporary history, 
“the historian too is a citizen,” with a stake in the society for
 which he serves as chronicler. And the answer to this question, Ram 
finds repeatedly in both history and the present day, must involve 
constant critical thought and application. This is why his writing is
 so valuable – not only because it keeps such a tight focus on why 
liberalism matters, but also because it reminds us of the never-ending
 hard work required to keep India liberal.

Samanth Subramanian

 

Samanth Subramanian is a New Delhi-based writer and journalist. His first book of non-fiction essays, “Following Fish,” was published in 2010. A selection of his work can be found at http://www.samanth.in.