Following Gandhi Before India (2014), noted political historian Guha continues with a massive and much-needed study of his subject’s emergence as a world leader.
Gandhi (1869-1948) arrived in India, after living in South Africa, in 1915 and immediately began to agitate for independence, renouncing what he called “violence and anarchy” and building an ashram-based movement of satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance to oppression. His earliest years in India were occupied with forging political alliances, building the case for independence with Annie Besant, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and other like-minded (but quite divergent) activists. As Guha writes, though profoundly influential and now sainted, Gandhi was human, with all the freight that carries. He may have renounced sex in his 30s, but he experimented with temptation late in life; he may have wished he’d been celibate before siring difficult heirs, only one of whom, he said, “had been born to compensate me for the dissatisfaction I feel from my other three sons.” The author portrays Gandhi as a masterful politician intent on a number of reforms apart from independence, including the dismantling of caste and religious barriers and advancement of gender equality. In his political dealings, he confronted numerous obstacles, including fellow Indians who wished to press for an established religion and the thorny question of whether to support the Allies in their war against the fascist powers in World War II, which afforded Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders a lever by which to insist that Britain relinquish empire in order to battle for democracy. If some of Gandhi’s ideas seem old-fashioned today—e.g., his insistence on the village and agrarian pursuits as the bases for a free nation—then many of them are resolutely forward-looking, as when he told a visiting delegation of African-Americans, “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of non-violence will be delivered to the world.”
Superb. On nearly every page, Guha offers evidence why Gandhi remains relevant in the world 70 years after his death.