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In the Shadow of the Mahatma

V. Geetha

By Sudhir Ghosh
Routledge, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 311, Rs. 695.00

By Bidyut Chakrabarty
2007, pp. 326, Rs. 350.00


Of the two books under review here, Sudhir Ghosh’s Gandhi’s Emissary is an engaging read of what is conventionally regarded as ‘high politics’ or the negotiations carried out by men in high places—in the name of the people, the national cause and so on. It comprises two parts: Ghosh’s ‘eyewitness’ account of the transactions between Gandhi and the gentlemen of the Raj, especially the members of the Cabinet Mission that arrived in India in early 1946 to hammer out a solution to transfer power. Part two of the book is a short account of that phase of nation-building that Ghosh was part of, in independent India, and is, in essence, a snapshot of the author’s troubled yet productive relationship to Jawaharlal Nehru on the one hand and American democracy on the other.   The second book, M.K. Gandhi: A Historical Biography, by Bidyut Chakrabarty is an exercise in attempting yet another novel interpretation of Gandhi’s life and thought, which very soon retreats into a descriptive analysis of his more well-known ideas, of satyagraha, ahimsa, nationalism and violence. It starts out on a rather odd and somewhat aggressive note, suggesting that this is a book that seeks to uphold the notion of fraternity in academia, inspired as its author is by the Gandhian principle of ahimsa. What follows is a set of essays, simply and in parts elegantly written, on Gandhi’s ideas, which are summarized efficiently, but it is not at all clear what is new in these readings. For one, with regard to satyagraha and ahimsa, the book repeats well-known arguments: about South Africa being Gandhi’s political nursery, his engaging with local contexts in India to hone his practice of satyagraha, his novel and successful attempts at creating a multi-caste-class political constituency for swaraj. . . . There are no surprises either in the author’s glossing of Gandhian civil disobedience in 1930 or his Quit India call in 1942. The sections on Rabindranath Tagore and Ambedkar, especially on the latter, are disappointing. Given the critical nature of the debates on the subject of Gandhi and Ambedkar one would have expected a more expansive sense of what Ambedkar stood for, and the precise details of his disagreement with Gandhi—but this is not conceded, and instead, he emerges as a man who held an equally valid view on questions of social justice and reform.   The book surprises though ...

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