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September 28, 2008
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September 28, 2008

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Home > 2008 Issues > September 28, 2008


The many versions of Gandhism

By MV Kamath

Gandhi, Gandhism and the Gandhians, Thomas Weber, Roli Books, pp 361, Rs 395.00

What? One more book on Gandhi? Yes, one more book. And is it at least a little more informative on the Mahatma than all the scores of books already published? Yes, certainly a little more informative. In what way? Well, in many ways. Take the story of Kharag Bahadur Singh, for example. He was murderer who killed a rich merchant on moral grounds and had been sentenced and later released after two years imprisonment because of public demand. He wanted to join the Dandi March led by Gandhiji. The Mahatma was very particular as to who should accompany him, but in Kharag Bahadur Singh?s case, he made an exception.

Has anyone heard of Kharag Bahadur? Or why he turned to non-violence? Or why Gandhiji took any interest in him? Hardly anyone. Kharag Bahadur himself disappeared not long afterwards and was heard of no more. What became of him remains a mystery. Then there is the issue of why Gandhiji chose Segaon as his home, after Sabarmati. Does anyone know why he chose that unheard of village for his last residence? Invitation to him to come and live there of course, was given to him by Jamnalal Bajaj.

But the author, Thomas Weber, provide further background. Gandhiji changed the name of Segaon to Sevagram. How come? The fact is, not far from Segaon was another village called Shegaon! And it had a post office and was served by railways as well. That created a lot of confusion, so Gandhiji decided that it is better to rename Segaon as Sevagram. There could be no confusion on that account. The main zamindar of Segaon was Jamnalal Bajaj. He was close to Gandhiji who treated Jamnalal as his son. And when Jamnalal died at a very young age, it was a staggering blow to the Mahatma. This story has been told in other books, but not many of the details surrounding Segaon.

Weber has done his home work all right. Then there is the story of why the Nobel Peace Prize was denied to Gandhiji. There has been a lot of speculation in this regard. Weber devotes one whole chapter to this. The general belief is that the British Government persuaded the Norwegian Nobel Committee to desist from honouring the Mahatma with the Nobel Award. The suggestion that Gandhiji should get it was first put forth in 1934, in an editorial in a journal called The Christian Century, which, inter alia, said: ?Why not award the Nobel Peace Prize to Gandhiji? It would be no personal favour to him and he probably does not want it. The honour would not greatly impress him and he would not know what to do with so much money except give it away. These are all high qualification for such a Prize?? Weber records what Gandhiji said when his attention was drawn to this. The book is worth reading to know this alone.

Weber questions some to the guesses made by some well-known writers as to why the Nobel Prize was denied to the Mahama. Indeed, the author has dug out some fascinating information on the subject which adds to the value of the book. But the Great Mystery about Gandhiji is that he has now been forgotten in the land of his birth. Yes, his portrait appears in our currency notes of which many youngsters are not even aware! If Gandhiji is remembered, it is, alas, not because he led the Dandi March, or inaugurated the two major Civil Disobedience Movements, or gave the mantra, Do or Die to those who fought in the Quit Indian movement of 1942, or spread the message of non-violence throughout the world, as none before him and none after him, have. Then what is he remembered for?

Weber recalls that Attenborough film and gives its director, credit for resuscitating the Mahatma from museum records! He writes: ?At around this time, many of the older generation, including older Gandhians, lamented the fact that Gandhiji was dead in India, and now had to be imported form the West.? The question arises: if Gandhiji, or even Gandhism was alive, would the Gurjars?the Gajjars?in Rajasthan have behaved in the abominable way they did, burning trucks, halting traffic and tearing down railway lines?

One doesn?t even see a person wearing a Gandhi cap, unless it be a stray Congressman at electioneering time. Weber quotes a cynical writer as saying that the truth is that, today?s Gandhians, if one can so call them, are elderly big city dwellers, who had some distant association with the Mahatma, and almost none of them are village constructive workers engaged in rural development. None are youthful idealists. But Weber does not exactly subscribe to this theory. He is not a cynic and gives instances of true Gandhians who have been active in the Sarvodaya Movement. The point is made that there are Gandhians even today only they do not figure in newspaper reports and sadly, even these luminaries are fast disappearing.

There apparently is networking among these groups who do not want older, so-called Gandhians, to join them. Says Weber: ?The old system is being side-stepped, and that may be a healthy development. Those who may have wanted to set up a Gandhiji sect have clearly failed.? Thomas Weber teaches Politics and Peace Studies at Melbourne?s La Trobe University and has been researching and writing on Gandhiji?s life, thought and legacy, for over twenty years.

This book is very insightful of social and political conditions as prevail today, with so much violence all around us. We need a resurrection of Gandhism at its best. Weber notes sadly that ?many of Gandhi?s philosophical concepts are difficult to grasp in the way that they are used to analyse the current situation in the country?. Do we need an Australian to tell us that? Gandhiji?s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhiji, writes in a foreword to this book that ?as long as India and the world contain people committed to obey both their minds and consciences, the tribe of ?Gandhians? will endure?. Some hope, that.

(Roli Books Pvt. Ltd., M-75.Greater Kailash-II Market, New Delhi-110 048; email:

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