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V. Geetha

By Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 252, Rs. 575.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

Gandhi continues to fascinate and frustrate those who read him. He refuses to retire peacefully into the archives and asks to be made contemporary. His admirers address the question of his relevance by mining his voluminous writings for meanings they are partial to, as if asking for his grace to be bestowed on their eloquence. Of these, those who are critically inclined towards modernity constitute a majority. They read and re-read Hind Swaraj to hone their own discontented critique of westernization and global industrial growth. Gandhi’s critics too are not yet done with him: in different contexts and for different purposes they return to examine the fundamental tensions that marked his life and work – especially those that relate to his claims for truth on the one hand, and his political practice which claimed that truth for itself on the other. Of his detractors, the most important undoubtedly have been dalit intellectuals: following Ambedkar, they view Gandhi as a champion of upper caste Hindu interests, and Gandhism as a form of modern ideological enslavement.   While interest in Gandhi has waxed and waned in the decades following his death, it has proved to be somewhat acute this last decade. Several reasons and interests might be cited for this particular turn to Gandhi: the global overwriting of need by want and consumption; the rapid retreat of ethics from the public sphere in India; disquiet caused by dalit critiques of Gandhi; and finally the need for charisma, for an icon in whose name we could afford to lay aside the anxieties of our time. The Rudolphs’ Postmodern Gandhi might be read as a partial response to some of these developments and concerns. But it is also its own book – it appears to want to claim both for postmodernism and Gandhi a social and ethical relevance. And this it attempts to do by making the one speak to the other.   It is not quite clear why the Rudolphs have chosen to read Gandhi through the postmodern prism, because the Gandhian notions they associate with the postmodern, as they define it, do not really require its sanction to be relevant. It is possible that this is a rhetorical and epistemological ruse, in a strictly heuristic sense, to return Gandhi to our times.   Let us consider, for instance, the checklist of attributes that the Rudolphs have chosen to illustrate the condition of postmodernism. The list includes: ...

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