Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India
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A highly original, stirring book on Mahatma Gandhi that deepens our sense of his achievements and disappointments—his success in seizing India’s imagination and shaping its independence struggle as a mass movement, his recognition late in life that few of his followers paid more than lip service to his ambitious goals of social justice for the country’s minorities, outcasts, and rural poor.
Pulitzer Prize–winner Joseph Lelyveld shows in vivid, unmatched detail how Gandhi’s sense of mission, social values, and philosophy of nonviolent resistance were shaped on another subcontinent—during two decades in South Africa—and then tested by an India that quickly learned to revere him as a Mahatma, or “Great Soul,” while following him only a small part of the way to the social transformation he envisioned. The man himself emerges as one of history’s most remarkable self-creations, a prosperous lawyer who became an ascetic in a loincloth wholly dedicated to political and social action. Lelyveld leads us step-by-step through the heroic—and tragic—last months of this selfless leader’s long campaign when his nonviolent efforts culminated in the partition of India, the creation of Pakistan, and a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing that ended only with his own assassination.
India and its politicians were ready to place Gandhi on a pedestal as “Father of the Nation” but were less inclined to embrace his teachings. Muslim support, crucial in his rise to leadership, soon waned, and the oppressed untouchables—for whom Gandhi spoke to Hindus as a whole—produced their own leaders.
Here is a vital, brilliant reconsideration of Gandhi’s extraordinary struggles on two continents, of his fierce but, finally, unfulfilled hopes, and of his ever-evolving legacy, which more than six decades after his death still ensures his place as India’s social conscience—and not just India’s.
old man at the far end of his ninth decade, his tiny frame enveloped in a wraparound lungi, the Travancore maharajah said his sole remaining duty was to go alone to the temple of Vishnu every day when it’s closed to all other worshippers for exactly twelve minutes as it had always been down through the generations. There the rajah solemnly reports in private to the deity, as all his forebears had, on what has been happening in his former realm. He didn’t know why Dalits still called themselves
before that sundering, is remembered, when it’s acknowledged at all, as a time of heavy-handed oppression by Muslims from the Punjab, on the other side of the subcontinent. Jinnah, never a hero among Bengalis, is lost in a deep amnesia. But Gandhi, faintly venerated as a saintly Hindu who came here on a peace mission, retains a presence. Voices become hushed. His name evokes a formal reverence, even among those who have never known the details of his time here. Such flimsy sentiments are not
or reconverted untouchables, should be allowed to draw their water from wells used by higher castes. Perhaps it would be just as well if they were given their own separate but equal wells. It was enough not to consider the practitioners of polluting trades polluted. Higher-caste reformers saw no need for them to undertake such dirty, distasteful tasks themselves. In later years, Gandhi displays at least a passing familiarity with this reformist history without ever acknowledging it influenced
Gandhi on Nehru, pp. 12–13. 72 his heir would never score high: Gandhi and Nehru had exchanged letters laying out their differences in October and November 1945. See Nehru, Bunch of Old Letters, pp. 509–16. Also see Tendulkar, Mahatma, vol. 8, pp. 302–6. 73 “He says what is uppermost”: Hingorani, Gandhi on Nehru, p. 12. 74 “He has made me captive”: Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: Last Phase, vol. 2, p. 251. 75 “My voice”: CWMG, vol. 86, p. 295. 76 Basically, it said Gandhi: Pyarelal, Mahatma
started writing about his first experience of jail, they were still “kaffirs,” too uncivilized and dirty to be incarcerated with Indians, let alone to be seen as potential allies. In part, this may have been because of a change in context: leaving Natal and returning to his base in Johannesburg, having left his family behind at Phoenix, Gandhi also left behind whatever opportunities he might still have had to build bridges and, ultimately, deepen contacts with a Zulu leader like John Dube who