ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reading Gandhi Today


Gandhi is, arguably, the most written about and at the same time also an intensely hated thinker, regarded as a mass leader by some and simply dismissed by many others. Still others continue to be critical of his thought and the political stand he took during the consolidation of the nationalist movement against foreign rule in India. Those who hate him require no argument for their hatred. This is because violent hatred is not known to stand on epistemological support. Hatred and contempt are two destructive elements that find their basis not in finely tuned arguments, but necessarily in historically accumulated prejudice that is good enough for such opponents. They do not seem to have ever engaged with Gandhi in the original or through Gandhian scholars, commentators, and interpreters. On the contrary, they find both a purpose and comfort in those who offer knee-jerk responses in support of Gandhi.

At the epistemic and methodological level, Gandhi perhaps appears to be one of those thinkers who denies scholars, commentators, and interpreters the epistemic privilege of putting an authoritative and definitive closure on his thought. That is to say, they find it difficult to provide a full and final description of his thought. His writings do not offer a neat and categorical characterisation due to their openness. Openness allows scholars to “indulge” in presenting Gandhi in different “avatars.” Thus, Gandhi appears on a wide-ranging spectrum and has been characterised as a postcolonial-nationalist, internationalist, alternative modernist and postmoder­nist, idealist and pragmatist, feminist and subaltern, and finally, a communitarian as well as a liberal. In fact, openness in thought or openness of thought tends to make some of Gandhi’s adversaries today either nastily lacking in ethical decency, or politically hypocritical, intellectually helpless, frustrated, or even nervous. They become obnoxious as they neither have an argument nor an interest in arguments to deal with Gandhi. Some of them feel frustrated as they do not know how to intellectually attack him. Those who are ever willing to wipe out the Gandhian legacy, but are unable to achieve their objectives are forced to associate with Gandhi for rhetorical purposes at least. Their political hypocrisy or “unhappy consciousness” tends to border on the tension between the hidden intention and its outer expression. Gandhi’s method of articulating his thought is dialogical in that it forces dialogue on the conservative elements through the creative use of intellectual resources that, for him, are available in Indian epistemic traditions. His thought works mostly from within. Gandhi’s ideas do not produce a uniformed reflection on the cognitive map of the scholars. As has been rightly argued by scholars, he makes a case against the cognitive enslavement of Indians to Western epistemologies. Interestingly, he shows his cognitive awareness in his avoidance of deploying cognitive categories which he thinks are not best suited for mass mobilisation against both the colonial configuration of power, as well as the local configuration involving the Brahminical hold over society. Therefore, his language of tolerance, non-violence, and disobedience has been very effective against the foreign rule, while seva, sympathy, and trusteeship are essentially non-cognitive in their hermeneutic thrust and are palatable to the common masses who are not required to take sharply polarised positions with the adversaries. The emotional element that is internal to such language seeks to moderate the force of reason, which serves as the basis of cognitive categories. The term “Harijan” is another prominent non-cognitive category that is centrally poised to neutralise and ultimately equalise the social standing of the savarnas with the lower castes. It is this methodological move that made Gandhi the most successful leader in the mobilisation of cross sections against British imperialism. It is natural for the common masses to feel safe and comfortable with such language as it does not immediately annoy the adversary. Thus, Gandhian thought acquires openness in its social base basically due to his use of non-cognitive categories as an effective hermeneutic to enlist the support of the Indian masses.

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Updated On : 4th Dec, 2019
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