The continuing interest in Mahatma Gandhi has generated some serve critical comments on his life and ideas. B.R. Nanda, an eminent historian and biographer of Gandhi, examines these criticism and clarifies misunderstandings, particularly in the West, about Gandhi's thoughts and deeds.
The author analyses the evolution of Gandhi's personality and thought, his approach to religion, the caste system and the racial problem, his struggle against colonial rule, his attitude to events leading to the partition of India, his social and economic thought, and his doctrine of non-violence. The London Times' comment on Nanda's biography of Mahatma Gandhi, that it 'rescues Gandhi both from the sentimentalists and from debunkers', would equally apply to this book. Not only does it do justice to the memory of an extraordinary man, but also shows his relevance for India and the world today.
B.R. Nanda is the author of a number of well-known books on Gandhi and Nehru, as well as a biography on Gokhale. He has been Directory of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
Excerpts from reviews
'This book presents a scholarly analysis of Gandhi's work on the one hand, and his critics on the other. Nanda has proved to be an outstanding researcher and his presentation is precise and fascinating.'
- International Journal on World Peace
'The value of the book lies in his portrayal of Gandhiji as a human being endowed with all the gifts of character and ability that go to make the substance of greatness.'
- The Hindu
'The man who became one with the Universal Being' this was the sub-title of Romain Rolland's book, Mahatma Gandhi, published in 1924. 'One thing is certain', Rolland wrote, 'either Gandhi's spirit will triumph, or it will manifest itself again, as were manifested centuries before, the Messiah and the Buddha.' Twenty years later Albert Einstein could write of Gandhi: 'Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.'
Magnificent as such tributes were, they would be misleading if they created the impression that Gandhi's career was a triumphal procession. Indeed from the day he plunged into the vortex of the racial politics of Natal until his assassination fifty-four years later, he was continually in the centre of one storm or other. In South Africa he was flayed in the European press and jailed by the colonial government, in 1897 he was nearly lynched by a white mob in the streets of Durban. After his return to India he incurred the inveterate suspicion and hatred of the British authorities. 'It is very necessary throughout', Lord Willingdon, the Viceroy, wrote in 1933, 'to view Gandhi as he is and not what he poses to be.' As late as 1946 Lord Wavell confided to his journal that Gandhi was an 'exceedingly shrewd, obstinate, double-tongued, single-minded politician.' The British rulers of India tended to see in him an irreconciliable enemy of the Raj, to suspect a trap in every word he uttered and a trick in his every action.
Gandhi had to contend not only with the guardians of the British empire. He never lacked opponents in his own country and indeed in his own party. He was the bete noire of orthodox Hindus who were infuriated by his denunciation of caste exclusiveness and untouchability and by his advocacy of secular politics. In the course of his Harijan tour he narrowly escaped a bomb attack in Poona in 1934; fourteen years later he fell a victim to the bullets of a Poona Brahmin who charged him with betrayal of the Hindu cause. Curiously enough, for years Gandhi had been branded by protagonists of Pakistan as 'the Enemy Number One of Islam'. Within the Congress Party Gandhi had continually to cope with rumblings of discontent. He was repudiated by the older leadership of the Congress in 1919. In the nineteen-twenties and thirties young radicals in the Congress such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Bose and Jayaprakash Narayan were straining at the leash: they fretted at the patient and peaceful methods of the Mahatma. The Indian communists dubbed him a charismatic but calculating leader who knew how to rouse the masses but deliberately contained and diverted their revolutionary ardour so as not hurt the interests of British imperialists and Indian capitalists.
Gandhi was patient with his critics. Through his weekly journals and innumerable letters to his correspondents (ninety volumes of his writings have already been published) he kept up a continual dialogue with them. In November 1929 when Jawaharlal Nehru regretted his signatures to the manifesto issued by Indian leaders on Lord Irwin's declaration on dominion status, Gandhi wrote to him: 'Let this incident be a lesson. Resist me always when my suggestion does not appeal to your head or heart. I shall not love you're the less for that resistance.' Gandhi encouraged his critics to come out in opposition so that he could attempt to carry conviction to them or, alternatively, change his own stand.
In the first chapter I have referred to certain comments on Gandhi made in the wake of the Attenborough film, but in this book I am not responding only to these comments. Indeed much of the criticism is a repetition of what was said earlier about Gandhi, even in hi lifetime. Nearly four decades after his death is should be possible to see Gandhi and his times in better perspective. I have posed in this work some major issues which have been brought up and tried to examine them in the biographical and historical contexts. Though my approach is broadly thematic I have not been oblivious of chronology. I shall feel amply rewarded if this book helps those who wish to delve a little deeper into Gandhi's life and thought, and at the same time want to steer clear of deification as well as denigration. They are likely to discover in him a degree of rationality, radicalism and relevance to our times which they may not have suspected.
I would like to thank Dr. S. R. Mehrotra and my son, Naren, for taking the trouble of going through the whole manuscript and making useful suggestions. Professor T. N. Madan was kind enough to read two chapters. I am indebted to my wife for reading and commenting helpfully on every chapter as it was being written; without her encouragement and support I could hardly have started much less completed this book.
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