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Two Stalwarts

Rohini Mokashi Punekar

By Bidyut Chakrabarty
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 269, Rs. 595.00


The book at hand attempts to study a significant and for the present times, a deeply pertinent field: the similarities, influences and overlaps in terms of the understanding, commitment and praxis of two of the most influential political leaders of the 20th century namely Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. By giving his book the title ‘Confluence of Thought’ Chakrabarty’s avowed aim is to offer a meditative analysis of the manner in which the two leaders combined religious and political thought in a creative synthesis and evolved a dynamic and potent form of resistance. Towards this end Chakrabarty divides his study into four core chapters, besides an introduction and a conclusion. The introductory chapter attempts to trace the social and political contexts of Gandhi and King. The first chapter is further divided into two parts and investigates the influences and roots in the thought of Gandhi and King and the creative evolution of the basic principles of their ideology and praxis within the larger intellectual streams of the times through debates with contemporaries. Chakrabarty examines Gandhi’s debates with Ambedkar, Tagore and M.N. Roy as well as the seminal writers and books which had a lasting influence. It also traces the trajectory of the many meetings between African American civil rights activists and Gandhi, through several trips of the former to India from the 1930s or so and the growing influence of Gandhi on the American civil rights movement culminating in the leadership of King who ‘meaningfully’ wove together the Christian ethos of his upbringing with the Gandhian message and strategies of nonviolence. Chakrabarty discusses the central paradox of both colonial and racial hegemony: that these emanate from liberal societies and are contrary to the fundamental values of the Enlightenment. If Gandhi pointed out the threat which colonialism posed to core tenets of British liberalism, King argued that racial segregation was contrary to the liberal principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence, the American Constitution and the 1863 Emancipation Declaration. This chapter also discusses with textual evidence another central paradox of Gandhi’s career: his rather perplexing position on the ‘kaffir’ in South Africa that speaks of his own initial discriminatory approach towards the question of race, though Gandhi was to radically alter his views later as his meetings with American African leaders testify. And it is here that the issue assumes very contemporary significance in the light ...

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