The Gandhian Momentby Ramin Jahanbegloo
Gandhi is revered as a historic leader, the father of Indian independence, and the inspiration for nonviolent protest around the world. But the importance of these practical achievements has obscured Gandhi’s stature as an extraordinarily innovative political thinker. Ramin Jahanbegloo presents Gandhi the political theoristthe intellectual founder of a
Gandhi is revered as a historic leader, the father of Indian independence, and the inspiration for nonviolent protest around the world. But the importance of these practical achievements has obscured Gandhi’s stature as an extraordinarily innovative political thinker. Ramin Jahanbegloo presents Gandhi the political theoristthe intellectual founder of a system predicated on the power of nonviolence to challenge state sovereignty and domination. A philosopher and an activist in his own right, Jahanbegloo guides us through Gandhi’s core ideas, shows how they shaped political protest from 1960s America to the fall of the Berlin Wall and beyond, and calls for their use today by Muslims demanding change.
Gandhi challenged mainstream political ideas most forcefully on sovereignty. He argued that state power is not legitimate simply when it commands general support or because it protects us from anarchy. Instead, legitimacy depends on the consent of dutiful citizens willing to challenge the state nonviolently when it acts immorally. The culmination of the inner struggle to recognize one’s duty to act, Jahanbegloo says, is the ultimate “Gandhian moment.”
Gandhi’s ideas have motivated such famous figures as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. As Jahanbegloo demonstrates, they also inspired the unheralded Muslim activists Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, whose work for Indian independence answers those today who doubt the viability of nonviolent Islamic protest. The book is a powerful reminder of Gandhi’s enduring political relevance and a pioneering account of his extraordinary intellectual achievements.
Verdict This complex and serious analysis will interest readers willing to think rigorously about political philosophy and options for change in today’s world.—Elizabeth Hayford, formerly with Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Chicago
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter Five: Gandhi’s Reception in India
Gandhi and his Critics
Jinnah insists that Gandhi should admit that he is a Hindu. Gandhi insists that Jinnah should admit that he is one of the leaders of the Muslims. Never has there been such a deplorable state of bankruptcy of statesmanship as one sees in these two leaders of India.
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
The dispute between Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar well known to specialists on contemporary Indian history. However, what is not often mentioned by historians is that Gandhi acknowledged Ambedkar as the most capable and talented representative of the Dalit group (Untouchables) and that he personally intervened for Nehru to choose him as Law Minister after independence. Perhaps Gandhi did so, despite his disagreements with Ambedkar, because he believed in Ambedkar’s political capacities as a true freedom fighter and an integral builder of democracy. Back in 1930, Ambedkar was a rising leader of the Untouchables in the Indian public sphere as he led a direct action movement to allow the entry of Harijans (Gandhi’s term for Untouchables) into the temple. Criticizing Gandhi for not making it a priority to end the caste system, Ambedkar accused Gandhi and Gandhians of strengthening Hindu domination in India. Asked about his critique of Gandhism and his ideas about social revolutions, Ambedkar explained: “Man has been waging war against Nature and conquering her in order to be happier and happier and less and less handicapped. This process must go on until mankind becomes entirely happy and his poetic paradise is realized on earth. As I understand it Gandhism is against this. Gandhism only wants to reduce man to the position of two bullocks he yokes to his plough, to shut up his women in the cottage to make her cook and procreate and ply on the charkha and deprive both of them of all cultures that can develop only by using the brain and mental faculties. This is Gandhism which is wholly reactionary. Whatever movement Gandhi may start, its roots will be found in this line of thought and so Gandhi is not acceptable to me.” What Ambedkar points out here as unacceptable is the limit to which Gandhi would criticize castes. Gandhi certainly agreed that Untouchables should be permitted into temples and had written extensively on the fate of the Untouchables in 1920-1921 while explaining his religious position as a follower of Sanatan Dharma. But Gandhi’s adherence to the spirit of the Varna system which denied socio-economic inequality and maintained hierarchy is evident in his article in Young India written December 1920, where he affirms: “I believe that caste has saved Hinduism from disintegration…But like every other institution it has suffered from excrescences. I consider the four divisions alone to be fundamental, natural and essential. The innumerable sub-casts are sometimes a convenience, after a hindrance. The sooner there is fusion the better… But I am certainly against any attempt at destroying the fundamental divisions. The caste system is not based on inequality, there is no question of inferiority, and so far as there is any question arising, as in Madras, Maharashtra or elsewhere, the tendency should undoubtedly be checked.” This passage reflects Gandhi’s adherence to the principle of Varna. It clearly implies his acceptance of the fusion among castes and his rejection of the Hindu orthodox reading of the caste society in India. However, as Christophe Jaffrelot underlines adequately, “Such a conception is naturally the exact opposite to that of Ambedkar, for whom the individual had to become the basic unit of an egalitarian society, with castes as collective bodies serving only as temporary means of advancing his politics of equality.”
Ambedkar was fully aware of the dangers of an independent India where there would be no share in political power for the depressed classes. He, therefore, expressed his disillusionment with a constitution which did not take into consideration the need for representation of the Untouchables. It became obvious that Gandhi’s views and Ambedkar’s could not be easily reconciled. Ambedkar did not take an extreme position, as did the Muslim League under Jinnah, to ask for a separate state, but he made it politically clear that he considered the Untouchables a separate minority.
Meet the Author
Ramin Jahanbegloo is Associate Professor and Noor–York Chair in Islamic Studies at York University, Toronto.
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