The Impossible Indian

The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the temptation of violence

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 190
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  • Book Info
    The Impossible Indian
    Book Description:

    This is a rare view of Gandhi as a hard-hitting political thinker willing to countenance the greatest violence in pursuit of a global vision that went beyond a nationalist agenda. Guided by his idea of ethical duty as the source of the self’s sovereignty, he understood how life’s quotidian reality could be revolutionized to extraordinary effect.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06810-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Faisal Devji
    (pp. 1-8)

    Towards the end of his memoir describing the events leading up to India’s independence in 1947, the labor activist Kanji Dwarkadas summed up the character of Gandhi, whom he had known for nearly thirty years, in the following irate paragraph:

    Gandhiji appealed to the imagination of the world as a little, scrawny, half-starved, self-denying man in a breach-clout—a wizened little monkey defying the terrible British lion—a sort of incarnation of Hanuman, the monkey-god, as I heard one intellectual, non-Congress Indian describe him. This Gandhi has been apotheosized by the millions of the Indian masses today. His very irrationality,...

    (pp. 9-40)

    It has become a convention for all those who write on Gandhi to spend some time tracing his intellectual and political antecedents. And these have themselves become so conventional as to be rattled off for the most part without further analysis. Thus we are told that in his childhood the future Mahatma was deeply influenced by his mother’s piety, and during his time as a student of the law in London, by a sundry assortment of pacifists, vegetarians and nonconformist Christians. All of this is true enough, and Gandhi himself did not hesitate to attribute each and every one of...

    (pp. 41-66)

    In the lengthy statement delivered during his trial for Gandhi’s assassination, Nathuram Godse pointed out that the Mahatma’s idea of nationality was shaped during the first two decades of his political life spent within South Africa’s community of emigrant Indians. Curious about this population was the fact that it appeared to invert the demographic state of things at home, dominated as it was by the wealthy Muslim merchants for whom Gandhi worked as a lawyer. In contradiction to the state of affairs in their country of origin, these Indians were also a minority, which meant, his murderer said, that Gandhi...

    (pp. 67-92)

    In an essay on the German thinker Lessing, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt had occasion to remark that, “he wanted to be the friend of many men, but no man’s brother”.¹ By opposing the virtue of friendship to what she considered the vice of brotherhood, Arendt was pointing to the different moral worlds these two kinds of relationship occupied. For the bond of friendship entails the activity of choice, premised as it is upon distinguishing the person befriended from all others, while that of brotherhood implies an inherited commonality that enters politics only to destroy the differentiation of such choice....

    (pp. 93-118)

    The story has often been told of Gandhi putting an end to the first and arguably most successful experiment with non-cooperation across India in 1922, after some of his followers burnt to death nineteen policemen trapped in their station at a place called Chauri-Chaura. Explanations of why the Mahatma should have called off a movement that was enjoying an extraordinary success include, on the one hand, his fear of losing control over its potentially revolutionary drift, and on the other his realization that the Indians who took to all manner of violence during the satyagraha were not quite ready for...

    (pp. 119-150)

    There is something curious about the enduring popularity of a fascist classic like Mein Kampf in India, with second-hand copies of the text being sold to a mass audience on the pavements of megacities like Mumbai, and this despite its denigrating references to Indians. The book’s author enjoys a similar popularity among Indians who are not necessarily fascists or even conversant with the movement’s European past. In fact it is precisely because Hitler has become history, and is no longer connected to any major political party or movement that he can serve for these fans as a representative of worldwide...

    (pp. 151-184)

    During the last great agitation he launched against colonial rule, the Quit India Movement of 1942, Gandhi accused the British of having become a hindrance to India’s political development and asked them to leave the country to God or anarchy. Made as it was in the middle of the Second World War, this demand would in effect have compelled Britain to abandon India to a possible Japanese invasion, and so it was chiefly as an attempt to sabotage the war effort that the Quit India Movement was judged, with the Indian National Congress seen as blackmailing the government in this...

    (pp. 185-192)

    Early in July of 1937, a well-known Nazi journalist, SS officer and advisor to Hitler named Roland von Strunk visited Gandhi at his ashram in Segaon. As befitted a National Socialist concerned with the cultivation of a nation’s health and power, Captain Strunk was interested in the Mahatma’s criticism of machinery and modern medicine. In the course of their conversation, Gandhi pointed out what he thought was the fundamental contradiction in the attention that Europeans paid to the preservation of life:

    But the West attaches an exaggerated importance to prolonging man’s earthly existence. Until the man’s last moment on earth...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 193-206)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 207-213)