BOOK REVIEW: Postmodern Gandhi and other essays by Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph
The book by former Professors of Political Science at the University of Chicago couldn’t have come at a better time. A popular Hindi film ‘Munna Bhai Lage Raho’ has revived interest in Gandhism, even coining a new term ‘Gandhigiri’ in the process, and youth are willing to experiment with the idea. The other day some youth chose to distribute rose flowers, rather than adopt any aggressive ways, to protest against a wine shop in Lucknow inspired by Gandhigiri. That Gandhi was always relevant, in fact, more so presently than the times he lived in, was clear to anybody even with a slight interest in Gandhi. The book analyzes Gandhi’s thoughts, especially those articulated in ‘Hind Swaraj,’ and shows with great lucidity that Gandhi was thinking ahead of his times. While the world was overwhelmed with the modernization project, Gandhi was already critiquing it. Gandhi opposed machines whenever they took away jobs and when independent India decided for the first time to give its poorest citizens this year an Employment Guarantee Act, machines were banned under it. Gandhi advocated celibacy or restraint in sexual behavior and we are already advising our citizens publicly about this as part of AIDS awareness program. Gandhi stood for Gram-Swarajya, i.e., decentralized political system and control of local people over their resources and we are beginning to realize the pitfalls of mega development projects and centralized decision making. Gandhi supported non-violent methods of struggle to gain one’s rights and we’ve witnessed how groups believing in violent ways of resistance like the PWG, separatists in Kashmir and Nagaland have shown more willingness in recent times to come around and discuss their issues over table. Similarly, the global protests by people coming out in large numbers on streets against the recent US military misadventures demonstrate a commitment of the common people to the values of truth and non-violence. We may not explicitly refer to Gandhi every time we follow some values dear to him, but we do justify his philosophy by an number of our actions. No doubt, in a year beginning survey by CNN-IBN - Hindustan Times, Gandhi emerged as the most popular national figure. And internationally India derives its best identity from Gandhi.
The book dwells at length on comparison between Gandhi with Christ. Given the extent of coverage of this comparison one gets the feeling that it is hard for Christians to digest the fact that in the entire history the man who most closely resembled Christ in thought, words and deed was not a Christian. The book also has a separate chapter on ‘Gandhi in the Mind of America.’ It is not clear why it is such an important issue deserving a separate chapter, considering the fact that US was then not a very important player in global politics as it is now and that Gandhi did not ever visit US or had very many associations there. Probably, Gandhi in the Mind of British or South Africa or even Pakistan would have made a more interesting case study. The book gives the western world credit for most of Gandhi’s progressive ideas. It is a moot point whether Gandhi would have developed the same world view that he did if he had not got a chance to go to Britain. If we look at Gandhi’s choices - vegetarianism, celibacy, truth, non-violence, giving up western clothing in favor of traditional Indian dhoti, emphasis on using right means to achieve right ends - it is quite clear that orientalism had more influence on Gandhi than the west. The basic values that a person chooses to live by come not from the exterior influence but from within. I think, and we may also conclude this from Gandhi’s childhood and youth experiences, that values of truth and non-violence were inherent in him. It was merely a series of events that brought out his personality which become a symbol of these values. Even if he had not left the shores of the country chances are that he would have arrived at the same final destination going through a different set of experiences. The basic essence of the man would have been quite close to how we know him today. It, however, remains a question whether he would still have been the most popular Indian world figure inside and outside the country, if he had not gone to Britain. But the basic premise that the credit for Gandhi’s holistic, democratic and humanitarian world view goes to his exposure to the western world is flawed.
Overall the book presents Gandhi is a positive light and it would inspire a few more individuals to adopt Gandhigiri as a life style. From that standpoint it is a very valuable piece of work, a collection of essays, which even though is an academic work but has a practical value. Any work on Gandhi, if it cannot inspire a few more individuals to act in similar ways, would not be considered of worth given the fact that Gandhi was a practitioner and an activist in addition to being a theorist.
By Sandeep Pandey