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Gandhi and Saintliness

An integrated reading of Gandhi’s ideas, images, personal life, and political activities, at times inflicts considerable damage to the understanding of his thoughts. George Orwell’s (1949–2000) view of Gandhi as a moral saint and his ideas as “anti-humanistic” is a striking example. Adopting Orwell’s image, the philosopher Susan Wolf (1982), in an influential paper, questioned the very idea of moral saints. His saintly image is an important reason why there is little mention of Gandhi in academic moral philosophy. By showing that the image does not apply to his thoughts, we rescue Gandhi’s moral concepts from the perceived image of a saint.

The complex phenomenon of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948) comprised a variety of elements: Gandhi’s personal image that led to ascriptions of ­Mahatma, Bapu, father of the nation, half-naked fakir, and the like; his political life and leadership that played a major role in India’s independence from British rule; his original moral and political ideas and the striking methods through which he ­articulated them. In the existing literature on Gandhi, there is a prevalent sense that most of these elements are necessary for understanding Gandhi. It is no wonder, then, that much of the prominent contemporary literature on the phenomenon of Gandhi continues to be largely anecdotal, historical, and ­biographical in character.1

Beginning with the early expository work of Raghavan Iyer (1997), Bhikhu Parekh (2000), Anthony Parel (2000), and a few others, there is growing scholarly interest in recent years to give a theoretical shape to Gandhi’s social, political, religious, and moral ideas; the goal being to form an abstract understanding of his thoughts. The emerging literature attempts to interpret Gandhi’s moral and political thought as an alternative to classical liberalism and political realism (Devji 2005/2012; Mantena 2012; Kapila 2015; Mehta 2010). The underlying idea is to see how Gandhian ideas contribute to the ongoing theoretical debates in political and moral domains.

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Updated On : 22nd Sep, 2020

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