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Varied Hues of Ethics and Politics

Rajmohan Gandhi

By Vasanthi Srinivasan
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2014, pp. 154, Rs. 495.00


A political science professor at the University of Hyderabad, Vasanthi Srinivasan is clearly also at home in other disciplines such as philosophy, religion and history. The width of her engagement comes across in this slim book, which contains a larger text than what its thickness might suggest. Although this reviewer’s eyes were hurt by the book’s tiny font, that font compresses more than 500 words into each page. The question the author pursues is an interesting one. Does Hindu spirituality enhance ethics in India’s national life? Does it help in making the polity more just and the citizen more responsible? The question is interesting because for many being a Hindu is above all a matter of birth, of being born to Hindu parents or into the Hindu ‘race’. Most of the time ‘Hindu’ is only a noun; one is or is not a Hindu. It is only rarely that the word is used as an adjective. While a deed is seldom described as a ‘Hindu’ deed, it is a good deal more common to refer to a Christian act or an unChristian one. For answers to her question, Srinivasan examines the lives and thoughts of four significant Hindus from the last century: Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877– 1947), Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (1878– 1972), Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888– 1975), and Vinoba Bhave (1895–1982), to list them in the order of their birth, which is not the order in which Srinivasan presents them. Born ahead of the other three studied in this book, and also dying well before them, Coomaraswamy, the famed Boston-based art historian who also earned a considerable reputation in metaphysics, receives most pages from Srinivasan. However, he is the last of the four thinkers interrogated, coming after Radhakrishnan, Vinoba and C.R., in that order. The treatment of the four varies in kind. With Vinoba and C.R., the author tells us at least something about their lives while painting the hues of their Hinduism. On the other hand, with Coomaraswamy, who was born to an English mother and a Sri Lankan Tamil father from—so Srinivasan informs us—the high-ranking Vellala caste, and also with Radhakrishnan, Srinivasan’s focus is almost exclusively on ideas—on the contents of Coomaraswamy’s metaphysics and Radhakrishnan’s Vedantic Hinduism. Tightly, knowledgeably and skilfully written, the book’s four essays do not lend themselves to simple comparisons or summaries. The author appears to find much civic value—or virtue, to ...

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