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Indian Critiques of Gandhi.

Indian Critiques of Gandhi, edited by Harold Coward. SUNY Series in Religious Studies. Albany, State University of New York Press, 2003. v, 287 pp. $97.52 US (cloth), $29.95 US (paper).

The life and career of M.K. Gandhi provides the source for innumerable biographies and articles by a wide variety of academics, scholars, and writers. Amidst the adulation for Gandhi, uncritical assessments have been made of his personality and place in the history of India and the world. Indian Critiques of Gandhi is a collection of articles that examines select critics and critiques of Gandhi during his lifetime centred in India. Harold Coward notes in the Introduction that one theme unites the articles: Gandhi's and his critics' appreciation of religion, broadly defined, and its role in political nationalism.

Chapter one examines the enigma of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru's relationship. The two men embody the divergence of outlooks on religion, society, and India; yet, Robert Baird delves into the convergence of their two worlds. Nehru, the future prime minister of India, was the diligent disciple, friend, and inward critic of Gandhi. As Baird notes, Nehru's chief criticism of Gandhi was that Gandhi was not a "modern": in other words, a rationalist and secularist. Specifically, Nehru could not agree with Gandhi's repeated "intrusion" of religion in politics. Nehru also disagreed with Gandhi's political strategy to make peripheral issues bones of contention between the nationalists and imperial authorities. And yet, Nehru was attracted inexorably to Gandhi, and the nationalists went along at every step with Gandhi. Baird notes the essence of the relationship to be emotion. Nehru, the supreme rationalist, was attracted to the indefinable thing that is personality. Furthermore, emotionalism coupled to political expediency united the nationalists to Gandhi up to the 1930s, as the popular Gandhi was "democratizing" nationalism and bringing supporters to Congress.

Nehru's appraisal of Gandhi as being more an idealist than a realist answers why leadership eventually fell to Nehru and other nationalists. At the same time, Baird's portrayal of Nehru indirectly highlights how Nehru, like so many, misunderstood Gandhi. Gandhi's active nonviolent protest was a logical moral and political goal: it shaped British-Indian relations, attracted peaceful followers, and achieved a goal that Indians could be proud of. Furthermore, Gandhi's coupling the means of attaining independence with the goal accounts for the vicissitudes to which he subjected the nationalist movement. The rational nature of Gandhi's actions to some degree explains the convergence of Gandhi's and Nehru's worlds and answers why Nehru was attracted to Gandhi: Gandhi represents Nehru's own struggle with his Indian identity, both its emotional and rational sides.

Chapter two examines Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Ambedkar was the passionate champion of the Dalits or Untouchables. The roots of difference between him and Gandhi were socio-religious and political. As Coward notes, Gandhi was a traditionalist who accepted caste, and the necessity to keep Hindus in the independence drive led him to downplay Ambedkar's call for the end of untouchability. At the same time, Coward notes how radical Gandhi's actions were for a caste Hindu in sympathizing with their claims (p. 45). The Ambedkar-Gandhi relationship was played out in the constitutional negotiations of the 1930s. Ambedkar is revealed to be the ultimate one-issue politician. Yet, Coward illustrates how Ambedkar's opposition to Congress' claim as the sole representative of Indians drew other minorities with similar opinions behind him. Explanation for Gandhi's approach to untouchability has always been unsatisfactory; Coward provides greater understanding of Gandhi's position. In reaction to Ambedkar, Gandhi raised the political profile of untouchability and, significantly, made Ambedkar a national figure. This chapter reflects that the Indian nationalist movement involved not only a debate over different forms of nationalism, but differing visions of national life in post-Independence India.

Chapter three examines Annie Besant, a British critic of Gandhi in India. Besant was a committed Theosophist and supporter of Home Rule who disagreed with Gandhi's goal of full independence and his method of non-co-operation, believing them to be provocative. There is also the implication that Besant feared Gandhi's competition for supporters, as both appealed to Indians on religious and political grounds. In turn, Gandhi rejected the occultism of Theosophy despite, as Joy Dixon notes, his debt to Theosophist political contacts; and he criticized Besant's lack of faith in people and "political egoism" (pp. 76-77). Dixon's account of the Besant-Gandhi relationship whets readers' appetite to know more about this unique woman and her concern for India.

Chapters four, five, and six analyze the critiques of Gandhi by important Indian religious and cultural leaders. Robert Minor examines Sri Aurobindo Ghose, a leader in the extremist wing of the Indian nationalist movement and a famous yoga teacher. Gandhi and Aurobindo never met each other, and the latter's critique emerges in letters to his disciples. Aurobindo believed in independence, but rejected Gandhian satyagraha or strategy of "truth force" and ahimsa or non-violence (p. 88). T.S. Rukmani addresses the relationship between the "Great Soul" and the "Great Sentinel." Rabindranath Tagore was a poet and Indian Nobel laureate in literature. The two men met once in March 1915. Tagore first applied the appellation "Mahatma" or "Great Soul" to Gandhi, but he disagreed with Gandhi over religion, politics, and personality. Ronald Neufeldt discusses the Hindu Mahasabha's critique of Gandhi from the writings of V.D. Savarkar, the spiritual father of the group. The ideas of Savarkar, Aurobindo, and Tagore are part of Indian cultural nationalism that called upon politicized Hindu symbols and also adhered to violence as a political tool. Both Aurobindo and Savarkar's antagonism to Gandhi lay in their belief that Gandhi mis-represented and even derided Hindu culture and religion through an emphasis on ahimsa. Gandhi, to some degree, bridged cultural and secular nationalisms, emphasizing cultural and religious aspects of Indian identity while fundamentally adhering to non-violence. Gandhian nationalism earned the ire of the extremist Hindus, and members of the Mahasabha and the RSSS ultimately killed Gandhi. All three of the above critiques reflect the competitive visions of how to see the soul of India.

In chapter seven, Timonthy Gorringe looks at Christian critics of Gandhi in India, specifically C.F. Andrews, the British civil servant. Gorringe reveals the tension between the men of two cultures, colonial and imperial, notwithstanding their bonds as pious men. Gorringe's article highlights the character of Andrews, who is portrayed as more consistent than Gandhi on issues, including non-violence: Andrews did not support the First World War, whereas Gandhi did. The latter assessment underscores how Gandhi cannot be seen solely in religious terms, as Gandhi's support for the war effort aimed to achieve a political end, which included Indian support in exchange for greater liberties.

Chapters eight and nine analyze the ambivalent feelings of groups toward Gandhi. Respectively, N.G.K. Singh and Ronald Miller examine the Sikhs' and Muslims' relations with Gandhi respectively. Singh demonstrates how Gandhi-Sikh difficulties lay in the Sikhs' emphasis on a distinct religious identity as opposed to Gandhi's calls for religious and political unity. The diversity of views among Indian Muslims on nationalism is reflected in Muslim responses to Gandhi. Individuals like H.A. Khan, M.A. Ansari, and A.K. Azad noted Gandhi's genuine concern for Muslims. Other Muslims, most conspicuously M.A. Jinnah, were the antithesis to Gandhi in religion, politics, and personality. Ultimately, a majority of Muslims' religious and political identification took the form of national separatism. Both Sikhs and Muslims in the nationalist movement were prime symbols of Indian pluralism and unity for Gandhi. Gandhi's inability to placate fully the majority of both communities' concerns within the nationalist movement reflects how modern and diverse Indian politics had become. As Daud Rahbar suggests in chapter ten, this also accounted for the disagreement and inability to adopt one Indian language as a national language.

The book concludes with an analysis of the enduring relevancy of Gandhi by Julius Lipner, and provides a meticulous appendix compiled by Hussein Keshani on the chronology of Gandhi and his critics. Due to space limitations, other significant "critics" of Gandhi have been left out, such as S.C. Bhose and the Indian Marxists. Notwithstanding the limits of space, Indian Critiques of Gandhi is a valuable contribution to the study of Gandhi and Indian nationalism. Indian Critiques confirms the pluralism of Indian opinion that existed in the pre-Independence decades and, in fact, evinces the basis of the future pluralistic nation.

Jesse S. Palsetia

University of Guelph
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Author:Palsetia, Jesse S.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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