Gandhi appears in his account as a symbol of India’s imperilled secular nationalism, whose “ideas on religious pluralism and interfaith harmony speak directly to the world we live and labour in.” This bland do-gooder has little of the “sublime madness” that Niebuhr identified in the man who wrestled with the snake of politics.Arguing that Gandhi’s stock should rise, Guha writes that he “is still relevant on account of the method of social protest he pioneered.” This is undoubtedly true, attested by the ubiquity of boycotts, strikes, collective vigils, and other techniques that Gandhi pioneered, or practiced, with world-historical results.Prone to committing what he called “Himalayan blunders,” he did not lose his capacity to learn from them, and to enlist his opponents in his search for a mutually satisfactory truth.
Four years later, however, Gandhi resigned from the Congress, unhappy with its inability to embrace nonviolence not merely as a politically expedient tactic but as a fundamental duty.
From then on, he returned only briefly to active politics, most strikingly in 1942, as the head of an anti-British uprising called the Quit India movement.
In “The Impossible Indian” (2012), Faisal Devji, the most stimulating of recent writers on Gandhian thought, calls him “one of the great political thinkers of our times”—an assessment not cancelled out by the stringent account of Gandhi’s fads, follies, and absurdities frequently offered by his critics.
Far from being a paragon of virtue, the Mahatma remained until his death a restless work in progress.
“Politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries,” Gandhi once said. Mehta, Karuna Mantena, and Faisal Devji present a radical figure, who, diverging from the dominant ideologies of liberalism, nationalism, and Marxism, insisted on the need for self-transformation, moral persuasion, and sacrifice.
“I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.” His prolific writings in that turbulent era inspired thinkers as disparate as W. The origins of Gandhi’s world view in Europe’s fin-de-siècle culture are also becoming clearer: Leela Gandhi persuasively links her great-grandfather’s outlook to an antimaterialist tradition that flourished in late-nineteenth-century Britain.Known as the Mahatma (an honorific meaning “great soul”), he became famous worldwide as a practitioner of nonviolent resistance.Guha’s previous volume established how Gandhi, born in 1869 into a family of senior administrators in the princely states of Western India, went to Britain at the age of nineteen, to train as a lawyer—the first time he had travelled outside his home region.In 2015, in South Africa, where Mohandas Gandhi lived from 1893 to 1914, a statue of him was defaced by protesters.The following year, the University of Ghana agreed to remove Gandhi’s statue from its campus, after an online campaign with the (misspelled) hashtag #Ghandimustfall charged the Indian leader with racism against black Africans.Compared with other recent targets of political iconoclasts—stalwarts of the Confederacy and Cecil Rhodes—Gandhi seems an unlikely symbol of racial arrogance.Nelson Mandela claimed that Gandhi’s tactics offered “the best hope for future race relations”; Martin Luther King, Jr., held Gandhi up as a model; decades before that, black activists such as Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., and Benjamin Mays were enthralled by the phenomenon of an Indian leading people of color in the campaign against British colonialism in India. Savarkar, a far-right Hindu supremacist who was accused of involvement in Gandhi’s assassination, in 1948, as his ideological mentor.In 1920, he launched his first nonviolent campaign against the British, and within a few years he had transformed the Indian National Congress, hitherto a party of upper-class Indians, into a vigorous mass movement.In 1930, he achieved international fame with the Salt March, a protest against a British-imposed tax on salt, which catalyzed civil-disobedience campaigns across the nation.Initially, Gandhi hoped to work for political reform as a loyal subject of the British Empire.Once he was exposed to the brutal facts of British rule—most notably, the massacre of nearly four hundred unarmed civilians in the city of Amritsar, in 1919—Gandhi turned resolutely anti-imperialist.