Mahatma’s new career in recent years

Thomas Weber’s new collection of essays is essential reading for a Gandhi student

GN Bureau | April 23, 2018


#Mahatma Gandhi   #Book Review   #Thomas Weber  

The Mahatma, His Philosophy and His Legacy

There has been a great resurgence of Gandhism in the last couple of decades – at least in some parts of society. In the new century, there have been at least four well-received popular movies featuring Gandhi or Gandhism substantially. There have been at least as many blockbuster and widely read biographies. This interest in Gandhi will only increase as the nation prepares for the Mahatma’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations later next year. Once can surmise that more and more people, especially youth, are turning to Gandhi for help in navigating our baffling times. For a Gandhian, this should be good news.

Thomas Weber, one of the pre-eminent Gandhi interpreters in our times, has a more nuanced view. In his latest publication, in Orient BlackSwan’s acclaimed Gandhi Studies series, he says, “Perhaps Gandhi has taken on a new career, but it is a different one to the one I first encountered in India [in 1975].” Thus, “one could say that Gandhian activism, once the main occupation of the Gandhian community, seems to have been replaced by an academic interest in Gandhi.”

In other words, “there is a trend to giving us a less activist and more bureaucratic Gandhi. … Once, committed Gandhi disciples dedicated their lives to service. This is fairly typical in newly-formed organisations. After the passing of the leader, the organisations tend to become bureaucratic and sources of employment. This is a fairly well-established general trend. Given that Gandhism faces new realities, can it be fostered so that there is still a viable and meaningful Gandhi establishment in India?”

In this essay, ‘Gandhi Today: In the Field and in the Academy – An Outsider’s Observations’ (originally published in Gandhi Marg in 2012), Weber with an amiable tone gives a nearly comprehensive list of all that has gone wrong – or changed – with Gandhi’s afterlife in post-liberalisation India. He has several suggestions to offer, for consolidating the ever-expanding but rarely deepening field of Gandhi research and scholarship. Among them is pulling together the Gandhi archive, currently spread over different archives, and consolidating the material at a central hub which would have a Gandhian ambience. The Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad took several initiatives in that direction in recent years including the launch of the Gandhi Heritage Portal and a resident fellowship programme.

The book under review, a collection of essays published in various journals – mostly the venerable Gandhi Marg, has three sections: the life and times of Gandhi, his philosophy, and his legacy. For Gandhi scholars, there are rare gems here. ‘Why Gandhi Didn’t Go to Finland (or America or China)’, for example, is a little-known but highly valuable case study “providing us with further insight into his thinking, into what was important for him”.

The same holds for the essay on Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr (50th anniversary of whose assassination was observed on April 4) or the essay on Gandhi and Gene Sharp (who died in January this year) – especially the latter, as it provides a more nuanced reading of Sharp’s nonviolent tactics which have been credited for the Arab Spring and other popular ‘revolutions’ of recent times.

The Mahatma, His Philosophy and His Legacy is not one of those ambitious grand works that evoke epithets like magisterial, but it humbly serves a serious student of Gandhi better than most of them.

feedback@governancenow.com

(The book review appears in the April 30, 2018 issue)

Comments

 

Other News

Making sense of facts – and alternative facts

The Art of Conjuring Alternate Realities: How Information Warfare Shapes Your World By Shivam Shankar Singh and Anand Venkatanarayanan HarperCollins / 284 pages / Rs 599 Professor Noam Chomsky, linguist and public intellectual, has often spoken of &ls

The Manali Trance: Economics of Abandoning Caution in the Time of Coronavirus

The brutal second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India has left a significant death toll in its wake. Health experts advise that the imminent third wave can be delayed by following simple measures like wearing a mask and engaging in social distancing. However, near the end of the second wave, we witnesse

Govt considers fixing driving hrs of commercial vehicles

Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari has emphasised deciding driving hours for truck drivers of commercial vehicles, similar to pilots, to reduce fatigue-induced road accidents. In a Na

Telecom department simplifies KYC processes for mobile users

In a step towards Telecom Reforms which aim to provide internet and tele connectivity for the marginalised section, the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communica

Mumbai think tank calls for climate action

Raising concerns over rising seawater levels and climate change, Mumbai First, a 25-year-old public-private partnership policy think tank, has written letters to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, minister for environment and climate change, tourism and protocol, Aditya Thackeray and Mumbai munic

Creation of ‘good bank’ as important as ‘bad bank’ for NPA management

After the recent announcement of the government guarantee for Security Receipts (SRs) to be issued by a public sector-owned National Asset Reconstruction Company Ltd (NARCL), there is a surge of interest around this desi version of a super bad bank. The entity will acquire around ₹2 trillion bad debts fr

Visionary Talk: Gurcharan Das, Author, Commentator & Public Intellectual on key governance issues


Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter