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Initially, Gandhi hoped to work for political reform as a loyal subject of the British Empire.
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.
Gandhi’s unique mode of defiance, Niebuhr observed as early as 1932, not only works to “rob the opponent of the moral conceit by which he identifies his interests with the peace and order of society.” It also purges the victim’s resentment of the “egoistic element,” producing a purer “vehicle of justice.”Certainly, Gandhi, the resourceful activist, the impresario of nonviolent resistance, cannot be expunged from history as briskly as his statues.
But there is also a case, which Guha does not make, for seeing Gandhi as far more intellectually ingenious.
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.
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.
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.