Monday, November 28, 2011

Reputations - Gandhi

This evening's lecture in the Trinity College Reputations series was about Mohandas K Gandhi, and was delivered by Dr Mridu Rai of the History Department. From the outset she set out to tear Gandhiji's reputation apart. 

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At first, Dr Rai told us that there was a lot of myth about Gandhi. Among many arguments she presented:
  • He was effectively a "racist" because he only worked as a lawyer in South Africa for Indians, and had "no time" for the "blacks"
  • He was a snob (not her words) as he only worked for middle class Indians, and only a latterly acted for lower class Indians under pressure
  • He repeatedly "sold out" lower class Indians in India in favour of the rich and the British - preferring instead to "compromise" 
  • His tactics of "non-cooperation" and "passive resistance" were efforts to provoke violence responses from the British - not what a non-violent protagonist should be advocating
  • All his ideas were ignored by Indian politicians - so much so that he was pretty much an outcast for the last years of his life in the sense that Indian politicians like Nehru were "fed up" of him
  • She even told us that his speeches were incomprehensible in his last years as he had lost all this teeth
The lecture made for uncomfortable listening for those like me who have long held Gandhiji in awe. I have read Louis Fisher's excellent biography of Gandhi (see my short review on Amazon here), and have always believed that he was a noble and righteous man with the independence of India by passive resistance being an achievable goal. Dr Rai dissected his life with the expertise of the historian, and while we might disagree over the ultimate reputation of Gandhi - she presented a well thought out account of his life with the passion of the historian. 

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