MAHATMA GANDHI by Dennis Dalton


Nonviolent Power in Action
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 Worthy study of Gandhi (1869-1948) as a political and social leader, by longtime Gandhi scholar Dalton (Political Science/Barnard). According to the author, Gandhi built his revolutionary platform on two moral principles. One was swaraj, meaning ``freedom''--not in the modern American sense of unbridled choice but rather social and individual liberation achieved through ``discipline ruled from within.'' The other was satyagraha, or ``non-violent power.'' Here, too, Gandhi diverged from modern sensibilities, for satyagraha to him was more than passive resistance: It entailed active compassion, even love, for one's enemies. Although Gandhi later moderated some of his ideas--for instance, his wholesale rejection of modern civilization--Dalton makes it clear that the Mahatma's radical spiritual stance was the inexhaustible force that powered Indian resistance to British rule. Gandhi's greatest triumph was his march to the sea in 1930 protesting the infamous British salt tax, an event that Dalton describes in detail, as he does the spectacular Calcutta fast for peace during the 1947 Hindu-Moslem hostilities. Less well known, but also amply covered here, are the many harsh evaluations of Gandhi by fellow countrymen, most notably Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel-winning poet, who attacked the Mahatma for fostering nationalism rather than world peace. Revelatory, too, is Gandhi's own misstep in urging Jews to combat Hitler through satyagraha. Dalton concludes with a brief comparison of Gandhi, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and with a glance at Gandhi's lessons for posterity. A bit too thick on intra-Indian political squabbles; otherwise, a tidy presentation of a sociopolitical vision that seems as fresh and radical today as it did half a century ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1993
ISBN: 0-231-08118-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993