Misreading the Mahatma

Misreading the Mahatma

WHAT WOULD GANDHI DO?

by Michael Kirby

Penguin, $9.99 pb, 80 pp, 9780143570707

Two years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld published a partial biography of Mahatma Gandhi (Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, 2011), which outraged public opinion in India and served as a vehicle for the self-promotion of leading politicians who railed against the supposed contents. Although the book was not yet available on the subcontinent, and so had not been read by the politicians, populist calls for its banning came thick and fast. The controversy could be traced back to a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal by an admirer of Gandhi’s nemesis Winston Churchill. The reviewer claimed that Lelyveld’s book allowed the reader to conclude that Gandhi ‘was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist’, not to mention a homosexual and a racist, something that the book itself did not say.

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Published in April 2014 no. 360

Thomas Weber

Thomas Weber is an Honorary Associate in the School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University. His most recent Gandhi-related books are Going Native: Gandhi’s Relationship with Western Women (2011), Gandhi, Gandhism and the Gandhians (2006), and Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor (2004).

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