May 5, 2014 By From Editor's Desk

Gandhi: Retrieving a Life from Cliches

Mahatma Gandhi’s life has been lined up in cliches. He carries superlatives which he deserves and does not deserve; which he knew and did not know; which he tacitly approved and vehemently discouraged and, which, above all, have been melted into the popular memory. For some, he is Mahatma-the most renowned and most widely criticized superlative; for others, he is the shrewdest and the most cunning, always countering practical politics with idealism and demands for ideals with pragmatism.

It is not right to call Gandhi’s opponents arrogant, elitist, and modernist hypocrites, as people like Winston Churchill and George Orwell were often called injudiciously. Also, it is not right to call Gandhi’s defenders fools who have no sense of history. The problem lies in that very point where, despite Gandhi’s understanding of the flaws in what he teaches and despite the presence of a plethora of materials to point out the failures of his philosophy, he is idolized.  Here I share the concern of Arundathi Roy:  “For me, somebody like Nelson Mandela or even somebody like Gandhi, I object to deifying them because they committed plenty of mistakes. That doesn’t mean you have to trash them or jump on them or jump on their memories or what they did.”

The reason why Islam Interactive is bringing up Gandhi for discussion is the relevance of one or two discourses he introduced in the pluralistic society we envisage. In the book review section, you can read about Faisal Devji’s Impossible Indian (, where you can read how Gandhi’s focus on non-violence as a measured action motivated by an ever-vigilant and fearless consciousness (whose absence might make Gandhi prefer violence to non-violence) renders a terrorist’s alternative to colonialism irrelevant. We must learn how best to fight your foe, by making him no longer a foe. This is one of our primary foci.

But criticisms against Gandhi are also so relevant as to be discussed when we imagine a future in which differences are respected. That he was not sincere in his attitude to the caste system; that he played up the emotional content of Islam by bringing all Indian Muslims under the flag of Caliphate; that he believed in the virtue of orthodoxy; that his understanding and treatment of women was that of an unreformed patriarch; that his overemphasis on the ascetic part of religion forced him to ignore its life-giving force are all important questions to be analysed in a society which brooks no monolith and accommodates all and sundry.

KC Saleem,Editor

Posted in: Articles