OFF the shelf
Images of the thinker and activist
V.N. Datta

Postmodern Gandhi and other Essays: Gandhi in the World and at Home
by Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Pages X+252. Rs 575.

Postmodern Gandhi and other Essays: Gandhi in the World and at HomeI think that E.H. Carr was absolutely right when he had said, while using his undying phrase, that "history is an unending dialogue with the past". Historians argue with the past, and interpret it on the basis of critical evaluation in a candid manner, uninfluenced by preconceived notions. There are different ways of seeing the past. Hence history is neither a dogma nor a fixed entity. In fact, rival interpretation of the past made with responsibility, without breaking historical norms, enriches the quality of historical scholarship.

Mahatma Gandhi has been seen, and interpreted in several different ways. To Indians, he is mostly the Father of the Nation, the saint-politician who had lived and died for the freedom of India and Hindu-Muslim unity. To his adversaries, especially Jinnah, he was an orthodox Hindu leader who mixed religion with politics, which led to the alienation of the Muslim, and the Partition of the country. To a modernist, he is backward-looking, spinning charkha, putting mud-clay on his head, humming Ram-Naam and preaching Ahimsa. To Winston Churchill, he was humbug, a hoax and a half-naked fakir. But Einstein thought him noble-minded and a rare human being, admired and revered for his love of humanity.

The book under review is a new edition of the previously published work, The Traditional Roots of Charisma (1983). It includes four new essays and sheds off the old ones. The book has been divided into two parts, containing eight essays, and regrettably has no bibliography and index.

In their earlier book, the authors maintained that Gandhiís charismatic leadership was itself historically determined and rooted in the aspect of traditions he interpreted for his time. In their new book, the authors repudiating their earlier view emphasise that Gandhi was not a traditionalist or a revivalist. Now they try to bring a post-modern understanding of Gandhi. Gandhi is now presented a staunch critic of the traditional order of society as well as of modernity, an emanation of the 19th century European Enlightenment, which is evident in his first major publication, Hind Swaraj, the epitome of his social and political thought.

In Chapter 2, The Road not Taken, the authors represent Gandhi as a post-modern thinker and activist. This chapter focuses on the Partition and the role that Gandhi had played in averting it. The authors argue that the Partition could have been averted had Gandhiís pluralism and minority right by Dominion Status prevailed over the democratic majoritarianism and uniform citizenship that underlay Jawaharlal Nehruís insistence on complete independence in 1927-1930.

The authorsí contention is that Nehruís ideological commitment had done grievous harm to the cause of the unity of India. Nehruís anti-Imperialist ideology wherein class replaced other social categories is mainly held responsible for rejecting the notion of pluralistic and multicultural society, and thus paving the way for the Partition. The authors argue that in Nehruís ideology and programme, there was no place for the protection of minority rights, representative safeguards and federal state for which Jinnah was fighting in the 1920s and 1930s and trying to negotiate a settlement with the Congress.

It is amazing that the authors give an exaggerated importance to the role of personalities in the making of history. I think that it is fallacious to think that Nehruís ideology and its adoption by the Congress led to the Partition. No single individual, however great or powerful makes history. Not even Napolean, Hitler, Stalin or Mao were makers of history. In the vicissitudes of human affairs, there are imponderable forces that operate and determine events. It is common knowledge how Nehru had a little role to play in the formation of the Congress policy. It was Gandhi who reigned supreme in the 1920s and 1930s. From the authorsí arguments it is fair to draw the conclusion that the national movement in India was unnecessary and irrelevant, which is ridiculous.

The authors float several images of Gandhi in their account. In Europe Romain Rolland had elevated Gandhi to the status of the conscience of the world. But what is the American perception of Gandhi? Gandhi had entered into American consciousness in 1921 when Haynes Holmes regarded him as the greatest man of the world. Martin Luther King and Niebhur saw him as a man of religion, a saint, and a world teacher of transcendental ethos. The Times issue of December 31, 1999, named Gandhi along with Albert Einstein as Persons of the Century.

First in the American list was Katherine Mayo, the author of Mother India, whom Gandhi had condemned as a "Drain Inspectors Report". She had called his ashram "a small pest centre". Arthur Koestler dubbed Gandhi as a trickster, and a neurotic for his vegetarianism and the rejection of sex even among married couples. In the last chapter, the authors show that Gandhi in order to overcome tragic events in 1946- 7 resorted to sharing bed with several women workersóto test his self-control, a sexual ascetism, as a part of what he called "my last yojna, sacrifice".

I think that this illuminating book gives us new insights in understanding one of the greatest and most complex personalities of our times.