Guha’s previous volume maintained, in the face of much accumulating evidence, that Gandhi, in his years in South Africa, was “among apartheid’s first opponents.” It would have been more accurate to say that the young and callow Gandhi failed to recognize the necessity of a broader struggle against racial-ethnic supremacism; in 1906, he volunteered as a stretcher-bearer with British forces as they savagely crushed a Zulu uprising.
The new volume likewise shows Guha to be admirably industrious in examining multiple archives, and diligent in his mastery of the arcana of Indian politics, but a bit languid in his analyses.
It was only then that bumper-sticker homilies Gandhi never uttered—“Be the change you wish to see in the world”—were attributed to him. In recent years, many scholars have asserted that he has much to say about the issues that make our present moment so volatile: inequality, resentment, the rise of demagoguery, and the breakdown of democratic governance.
(Donald Trump tweeted one of these fake quotes during his Presidential campaign, in 2016: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”) As Gandhi disappeared into T-shirts and Apple advertisements, it was easy to forget that this big-eared, cuddly icon of popular culture responded to an unprecedentedly violent and unstable period in human history, beginning with the intensification of imperialism and globalization in the late nineteenth century and continuing through two world wars. In several pioneering books and articles, the Indian thinker Ashis Nandy has presented Gandhi as boldly confronting the “hyper-masculine” political culture of his time, which sanctified “institutionalized violence and ruthless social Darwinism.” Writers such as Ajay Skaria, Shruti Kapila, Uday S.
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 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.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.Satyagraha, literally translated as “holding fast to truth,” obliged protesters to “always keep an open mind and be ever ready to find that what we believed to be truth was, after all, untruth.” Gandhi recognized early on that societies with diverse populations inhabit a post-truth age.“We will never all think alike and we shall always see truth in fragments and from different angles of vision,” he wrote.And even Gandhi’s harshest detractors do not deny that he steadfastly defended, and eventually sacrificed his life for, many values under assault today—fellow-feeling for the weak, and solidarity and sympathy between people of different nations, religions, and races.“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.In “The South African Gandhi” (2015), Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed depict him as a pro-British lawyer, who worked within the country’s white-supremacist politics to promote his Indian compatriots at the expense of black South Africans.In “The Doctor and the Saint,” Arundhati Roy indicts Gandhi for his failure to unequivocally condemn the Hindu caste system, calling him a “Saint of the Status-Quo.” The Marxist critic Perry Anderson, in his scathing account of Indian nationalism, “The Indian Ideology” (2012), charges that Gandhi’s “intellectual development” was “arrested by intense religious belief.”Some of these reassessments may have been provoked by the halo surrounding Gandhi, which has shone brightly ever since Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning bio-pic, in 1982.