This is a guest post from Anuradha Veeravalli, author of Gandhi in Political Theory.
Gandhi as the ‘Mahatma’ (great soul) or Gandhi as the shrewd politician — opinions have swayed vastly on the role Gandhi played in the Indian freedom movement and the question of whether and what lessons the modern world can learn from his life. It is thus befitting that on the 145th anniversary of his birth, falling on October 2nd, the debate be given a fresh break, pushing beyond these dualities to a discussion of his presuppositions, theory and method.
Gandhi in Political Theory argues that the clincher is in Gandhi’s engagement with experiment as an epistemological category and methodological tool. This allows the coming together of theory and practice, and the normative and the descriptive, besides establishing a principle of motion in the context of history, a lacuna which the social sciences have been unable to fill.
Gandhi’s approach then is not merely a moral or spiritual one but a matter of theory and method. It is not an anti-colonial stance as much as it is a considered and systematic response to the presuppositions of modernity and post-Enlightenment thought. The focus of the book then is not on explaining Gandhi’s influences and actions but on locating the principles of his political thought within a philosophical trajectory that systematically challenges the presuppositions of the dominant mode of post-Enlightenment thought.
Thus, on each significant head of political theory – sovereignty, territory, political economy, the relation between individual, civil society and state, equality and difference – we argue that there is not only a response to the immediate issue by Gandhi but a significant and sustained reformulation of the fundamental and perennial problems that inform political theory. The reformulation of these issues pit Gandhi’s thought against mainstream political theory and the result is a thought provoking discussion that bears not only on the foundations of modern political theory but also on modern western philosophy. The book spans across Gandhi’s experiments in civil disobedience, political economy and the controversial brahmacharya (or “celibate sexuality” as it has been aptly called by Vinay Lal) experiments taken up during the partition riots before his assassination soon after India’s Independence putting it in the context of specific issues raised by modern political theory and its implications for the modern nation state.
‘Anuradha Veeravalli provides us with a provocative study of Gandhi’s political theory. Gandhi is seen as a systematic thinker who rejects the many dualisms that dominate much modern political thought. The author not only knows her Gandhi very well but also demonstrates a keen command of Western political thinkers. In this book, Gandhi takes on not only British colonialism but also the Enlightenment and the modern nation state.’ Ronald Terchek, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, USA
About the author: Anuradha Veeravalli is an Assistant Professor at the University of Delhi. Her teaching and research focus on issues regarding science, religion and politics and the relation between them through a consideration of their epistemological presuppositions in a comparative perspective.