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Alternative Models of Politics

Nandini Chandra

By Leela Gandhi
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 254, Rs. 495.00


Leela Gandhi’s Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought and the Politics of Friendship is a quintessentially Gandhian essay, and not simply because she is a Gandhi. It is Gandhian in its ethical surplus, in making a religion out of morality. The book traces the history of an alternative model of politics by looking at the affective ties cultivated by the utopian socialists and radicals of late Victorian England, the odd assortment of sexual dissidents, animal rights activists, zoophiles, suffragists, ‘post-humanist’ spiritualists, those practising a variety of religious heterodoxy and the anarchist socialists from the First International. However, the radical edge of its ethical/spiritual core derives from a cosmopolitanism and anarchic position that is far removed from that of her iconic forbearer. Gandhi’s cosmopolitanism, which is not simply hers and belongs to a larger bloc of cultural theorists at large in the international circuit, uses politics as a password to gain entry into the domain of legitimacy and cultural capital. The need to come under the banner of a right (‘left’) politics becomes the most crucial agenda for these new-wave culturalists, whose cosmopolitanism needs to be marked off from the debilitating motions of a corporate globalization and imperialism. Hence, there is a need to highlight alliances such as the anti-corporate activities of the international army of anarchists in Seattle 1999, and draw lineages from France 1968. However, this clarification of her political position comes right at the end of the book in a chapter entitled ‘An Immature Politics’, an ironic play upon Lenin’s use of the term to discredit as immature the lack of an organizational focus among the utopians. Read retrospectively Gandhi’s book becomes then a celebration of the immature, the irrational, the fragmentary and the open-ended as against the closed rationality of cadre-based party politics.   While the seeking of a political vocabulary in the little gestures of individuals, private everyday gestures, internal practices, orientations, inclinations, food and sexual tastes, might be a legitimate exercise, the attempt to give it a moral right over the more grounded forms of politics based in a narrowly nationalist context, unconsciously feeds against its own conviction of a hybrid modality. In fact, this tendency to dub as ‘good politics’ only those gestures which aspire to transcend the state and the nation must decidedly be in bad faith, especially in view of its evasion of the economic question. While it recruits subalterns and the ...

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