Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India

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‘Great Soul’: Joseph Lelyveld tells Mahatma Gandhi’s larger-than-life story

He proclaimed his life a failure and, in the weeks before his assassination in January , often declared his readiness to die. Great Soul sensitively explores this paradox. Gandhi always insisted that mere political sovereignty was an unworthy goal.

Genuine swaraj "independence" or "liberation" for India rested on four pillars. First was economic self-sufficiency for India 's , villages, which meant above all breaking the country's dependence on cheap imported mainly British textiles.

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Gandhi's famous homespun loincloth which he wore even to an audience with the King of England was a political statement: all Indians should spin and weave, every day. Second was Hindu-Muslim unity. Religious fanaticism horrified him; the massive pogroms following independence broke his heart; and his outspokenness on this score maddened fundamentalist Hindus, until one of them took Gandhi's life.


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Third was untouchability. Nearly a quarter of Indians were outside the caste system. They were powerless and despised, worse off in some ways than blacks in South Africa or the American South.

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Gandhi repeatedly shocked respectable India by living, eating, and working with untouchables, even when that meant cleaning latrines. The fourth pillar was ahimsa , or nonviolence. His vast campaigns of nonviolent resistance, or "non-cooperation with evil," aimed to elicit an answering impulse of fraternity and respect from enemies - to sap their own will to violence. Lelyveld's probing account of the visionary-as-politician reveals that, as one might expect, the politician often prevailed over the visionary.

Great soul : Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India

The Mahatma had a remarkable capacity for compromise, and even for nimble rationalization. But he was morally serious, a genuine "great soul," and thus lacked the true politician's talent for convenient self-deception. By the end of Great Soul , a generous reader's heart may be broken, no less than Gandhi's.

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But just as the Gandhian discipline of truth-telling could fortify the soul, so does Lelyveld's sympathetic yet unsparing look at Gandhi's uncertainty and anguish. Leave a comment.


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  • Email Address. Remember personal info? Subscribe to this site's feed. And here's another profile of me at Times Higher Education. Gandhi felt his political power really came from his celibacy, from his spiritual power. He said Gandhi often filled his letters, including those to female associates, with strong love language, but that did not lead to physical intimacy. They are not put into action. That would have been terrible for him.

    The Great Soul by Joseph Lelyveld Banned in India Proves Lack of Free Speech

    Politicians in the state of Maharashtra, home to India's financial capital, Mumbai, have also called for a ban on the book and, along with Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, have asked the central government to ban publication nationwide. Ranjit Hoskote, a writer and general secretary of Pen India, which fights for free expression, condemned the ban and said the local media had misconstrued both Lelyveld's intentions and the nature of Gandhi's relationship with Kallenbach.

    He said Gandhi's correspondence with Kallenbach has been available in library archives for decades. There is no scandal," he said. The book has not yet been released in India. Gandhi's great goals were non-violence, celibacy and truth, he said.

    Modi said Lelyveld should apologise publicly for "hurting the sentiments of millions of people".

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