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From Different Theoretical Perspectives

Vinay Lal

Edited by Nalin Mehta and Mona G. Mehta
Routledge, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 242, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 8-9 August-September 2011

More so than most other Indian states, Gujarat appears enigmatic to many observers. Its most famous son is Mohandas Gandhi, but he is also a uniquely despised figure in much of middle class Gujarati society at home and abroad. Gandhi, officially revered as the 'Father of the Nation', has had more than his fair share of critics. In his lifetime, another Gujarati, the Karachi-born Mohammad Ali Jinnah, similarly trained in law but wholly indisposed towards the Mahatma's lifestyle or worldview, turned into Gandhi's most formidable adversary and eventually became enshrined in Pakistan as the Quaid-e-Azam ('Great Leader'); in our times, a third son of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, has played a key role in effectively banishing Gandhi from his native state. These might well be the cliches that abound in common understandings of Gujarat, yet nothing is as it seems. Modi's strategic claims to allegiance to the ideals of 'Bapu' signify his mastery of politics, besides suggesting that every attempt to exorcise Gandhi has had the effect of enlarging his spectral presence in Indian politics. Many contemporaries who were not entirely taken in by Gandhi habitually characterized him as a 'shrewd bania', and one might say that Gujaratis, for instance those settled in the United States, display a similar astuteness in their recognition that the invocation of Gandhi's name is calculated to earn unrivalled goodwill among those who only associate the Mahatma with peace, nonviolence, and brotherhood. Though Gujaratis in private may deplore the man who, as they imagine, emasculated them and would have condemned India to obscurity with his vision of a non-industrial society and heady embrace of village life, they are only too willing to partake in public felicitations of Gandhi as the icon most likely to earn them some cultural capital. The essays collected in Gujarat Beyond Gandhi: Identity, Conflict and Society are written from varying theoretical perspectives but have in common a critical outlook on some of the most disturbing features of contemporary Gujarati society. The rather anodyne subtitle offers little hint of the often penetrating analytical insights found in many of the essays or of the deep fissures in Gujarati society that have led to profoundly segregated patterns of thought, experience, and conduct. The editors, in their concise introduction, argue that the region of Gujarat 'has always been a crucible for ideas of India': Gujarat was the scene of the first encounter with the British, and ...

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