Gandhi in His Time and Ours

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Item Code: NAI323
Author: David Hardiman
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788178241142
Pages: 350 (12 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 350 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


This book examines Gandhi as the creator of a radical style of politics. It argues that whereas politicians garner support by demonising those they oppose, Gandhi resisted such a politics. He asserted that there are always grounds for a fruitful dialogue between opponents.


How did Gandhi create this new form of Politics? Hardiman shows its basis within Gandhi’s larger vision of an alternative society based on respect, non-violence and ecological harmony. His politics in turn constituted one of the many directions by which he activated this peculiarly personal vision.


The practice of such a politics entailed personal and institutional experiments in relation to his opponents, who ranged from colonials to violent resisters from right-wing religious leaders and upholders of caste privilege to socialist and Dalits Gandhi’s conflicts and dialogues with all these are studied.


Various key issues in Gandhi’s life and legacy are also examined. His sexuality and programme for woman are looked at in the light of feminist critiques. His inconsistencies, mistakes and failures (as husband and father) are carefully scrutinised. Hardiman’s effort is to show that Gandhi, despite his limitations, provides a beacon because of the uncompromising honesty of his political life and moral activism.


About the Author


David Hardiman is on eminent historian currently at the University of Warwick. He is a founder member of the Subaltern Studies group.




This book inaugurates a new series called ‘The Indian Century’. Each book in the series will deal with a compelling subject in modern Indian history. The titles planned include works on Ambedkar and Ambedkarism, feminism, the city, the discourses of democracy, the novel and society, and the cultural history of music. As General Editors we shall take special care to match authors with subjects while leaving authors free to decide how their subjects should be treated. We ask only that the books not be narrowly focused. While each book might draw on an individual’s experience of a particular state or region, each will be pan-Indian in scope. And while it might pay close attention to a particular slice of time, each book will deal with the period before as well as after Independence. For, one date, 15 August 1947, has too long divided History from the Social Sciences, to the impoverishment of both. By contrast, books in this series will breach the boundary by considering events and processes in both colonial and postcolonial India.


‘The Indian Century’ begins with David Hardiman’s Gandhi: In His Time and Ours. This is a landmark study by a fine and experienced scholar. Hardiman is the foremost modern historian of Gandhi’s cultural region, Gujarat. He is an acknowledged pioneer in the study of popular protest. And he has had a lifelong interest in Gandhi.


Most recent books on Gandhi fit tidily into one or the other of the ‘Life’ and ‘Thought’ categories. On the one hand, there are biographies which provide a chronological account of the life; on the other, works of political thought which study Gandhi’s ideas on religion, non-violence, the state, or economics. Here, however, is a book that systematically and skilfully links life and thought. A distinctive feature is its discussion of Gandhism after Gandhi-that is, of movements in India and Europe inspired by Gandhi’s ideas.


Hardiman’s book is empathetic but by no means uncritical. It is widely researched and extremely well written. It is wise, insightful, and, above all, historically subtle. It will be read with great interest within the academy and beyond, and for many years to come. We are delighted and honoured that this book should start our series, ‘The Indian Century’.




In this book I examine Gandhi’s legacy as the creator and advocate of a radical style of politics that fought the many insidious divides found in his own and other societies. Political cultures-both democratic and authoritarian-have had a tendency to give rise to a populist demonising of people who are considered to be ‘different’ in one way or another. This may be directed against an external enemy, or it may be engaged within a society against minorities or those who lack social and political power. Often, though not necessarily, it is associated with a chauvinistic nationalism. Many examples may be cited, of which the case of Nazi Germany is only the most striking. In India, in Gandhi’s own time, Hindu extremists spouted a hate-filled bombast against Muslims and Christians, who were depicted as ‘traitors’ and ‘anti-nationalist’. Separatist Muslims countered them, demanding their own nation state-Pakistan. This led to inter-community strife and a series of tragic massacres.


This divisive politics had, and continues to have, several features. It involves defining an antagonist-an ‘other’-who is seen to stand apart from the community to which the ‘self’ is perceived to belong. The difference might be perceived as religious, ethnic, racial or caste-based. It might target a minority or an assertive lower social class or community that ‘needs to be taught its place’. All members of the ‘other’ community are seen to be culpable, and all may become objects of what is held to be a legitimate attack, regardless of any particular individual attitude or loyalty. Such enmity might also be directed against an occupying or colonial power that is defined on racial, religious and other such grounds, leading to terrorist attacks that are fuelled as much by a spirit of hatred and revenge as by any tactical need in what might well be an otherwise legitimate struggle. Debate and discussion with the ‘other’ is avoided lest it compromise the resolve to eliminate. The aim is always to bring about a polarisation of sentiment, leaving no middle ground between ‘self and ‘other’.


Gandhi, I argue in this book, resisted such a politics with his whole being. He refused to accept the validity of such divides, arguing that humans everywhere share much in common, and that there are always grounds for a fruitful dialogue that can lead to a resolution of conflicts and a breaking down of difference. He resisted nationalists who preached hatred against the coloniser and who tried to assert a warped sense of masculinity through assassinations and terror-bombings. Instead, he validated what he depicted as ‘feminine’ principles of non-violent opposition and civility. He insisted that Britishers were welcome to stay in India if they relinquished their domineering and exploitative sovereignty and applied their many talents to improving Indian society in harmony with Indian sentiments. He forged a method of resistance that sought to build bridges with an opponent, while at the same time refusing to accept injustice. He directed a powerful spotlight on the injustices that ran through his own society, such as the practice of untouchability and the exploitation of low-caste and ‘tribal’ groups by the high castes, and he fought these abuses with great energy and commitment. He abhorred conflict based on the hatred of one religious group for another, seeing it as a negation of all that he defined as ‘religion’. He was disgusted by Christian missionaries who railed against Hindu ‘superstition’ and ‘idolatry’, as well as by Hindus and Muslims who attacked one another for various alleged violations of their religious sentiments.


In resisting such polarities, Gandhi put his life on the line, and in the end was assassinated by a votary of the politics that he abhorred. In the process, he forged a method of moral activism that was to provide a beacon for many women and men in subsequent years. Such people, in speaking what they believed to be the truth to those in power and in fighting injustice through non-violent civil resistance, have also laid their lives on the line, and they have suffered and sometimes died for their principles. The final three chapters of this book examine Gandhi’s legacy in this respect, both in India and on a global stage.


The book began as a result of a suggestion from Ramachandra Guha that I write a book on ‘Gandhism in the Twentieth Century’. I took up the idea because I felt that Gandhi’s beliefs, practice and legacy were due for reassessment in the light of many disturbing developments that had occurred during the 1990s both in India and the world, and no more so than in Gandhi’s home region of Gujarat, where Hindu chauvinists carried out murderous attacks on Muslims in 1992. The events of2002 in Gujarat-when the same elements launched a care- fully planned pogrom against Muslims, and then months later swept the polls in the state elections through playing on fears of ‘Muslim terrorism’-have strongly reinforced my feelings in this respect.


For reading and commenting on the manuscript, I would like to thank David Arnold, Ramachandra Guha, Gyanendra Pandey, Parita Mukta, Mahesh Rangarajan, Ajay Skaria; for the editing, Rukun Advani; and for invaluable help with my research in India, Kanu Bhavsar.


While I was writing this book, and within the space of less than two years, my father, John Hardiman, and my father-in-law, Harshad Trivedy, died. Both, in their own and very different ways, put into practice their admirable visions of public and private civility. I dedicate this book to the memory of them both.




Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has today become an iconic figure, a symbol of many things for many people. He is seen variously as the great opponent of European colonialism, as a champion of civil rights for racial, religious and other minorities, as an important critic of the industrial system of production, as a great pacifist, or as a person who stood for the need to resist injustice non-violently in a way that provides a vivid demonstration of the superior morality of the protester. Some believe that his greatest quality lay in his ability to reach out to the poor and oppressed. As the .Indian political leader Rammanohar Lohia once stated: ‘tens of millions throughout the world saw in him their spokesman, the solace and the remedy for their sufferings and distress.’


In its last issue of the twentieth century, Time magazine selected Gandhi as joint runner-up (with Franklin Roosevelt) to Albert Einstein as ‘person of the twentieth century’. He was singled out as the century’s foremost representative of ‘the crusade for civil rights and individual liberties’ A commentator in this issue stated that ‘Gandhi is that rare great man held in universal esteem, a figure lifted from history to moral icon.’ Nevertheless, however great the esteem, Gandhi has always been a controversial figure. Not least, this was because he took a strong stand on many important issues, in the process coming into sharp conflict with a range of opponents. Born on 2 October 1869 in the seaport of Porbandar within Kathiawad (or Saurashtra) in western India, he trained as a lawyer in England and then took up work in South Africa in 1893. From the start, he refused to accept the inferior status imposed on Indians by a racist ruling class and resolutely fought the various restrictions that had been imposed on his fellows there. In the process, he developed the new technique of civil resistance now universally known as satyagraha, deploying it to powerful effect against the white rulers in South Africa and, later, opponents in India. He also developed his idiosyncratic social vision there-representing another sharp challenge to accepted ways of thought-and established small communes in which an alternative way of life could be practised on a daily basis. His political, social and spiritual development during those years led to his manifesto of 1909- Hind Suiaraj, or ‘Indian Self-Rule’-a work that was considered so scandalous by the British that it was banned in India and which is now considered by many to be his tour de force.


Gandhi returned to India in 1915, and, after a period of settling in, soon established himself as a champion of the peasantry, leading to confrontations with white indigo planters in Champaran in 1917 and the colonial tax bureaucracy in Kheda in 1918. He also led a successful strike in Ahmedabad-his base at that time-by textile workers against Indian mill bosses. In 1919 he staged his first all-India protest-the Rowlatt Satyagraha-and followed this up in 1920 by gaining control over the Indian National Congress and launching the Non-Co-operation Movement, in which Indians withdrew their support for British colonial institutions. This was followed in later years by two more powerful confrontations with the British-the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930-4 and the Quit India Movement of 1942.


While struggling against colonial rule, Gandhi also sought to build alternative social, political and economic institutions in India through his ‘constructive programme’. This brought him into conflict with many powerful vested interests within Indian society. The area he focused on in particular was the practice of untouchability, He saw this as a social disgrace and a blot on Hindu religion, and his stance inevitably led to a clash with many high-caste Hindus whose privileges rested on this practice. In time his work in this sphere led also to a bitter dispute with a new leader of the Untouchables, B.R. Ambedkar. As an Untouchable by birth, Ambedkar resented what he experienced of Gandhi’s paternalistic manner, and during the 1930s he became increasingly critical of Gandhi’s whole approach to the issue, feeling that it provided no adequate means for the successful assertion of his community.


Gandhi was also in dispute with Marxists and socialists within the nationalist movement. Many on the political left saw him as merely the leader of an emerging bourgeoisie who was playing a ‘historical role’ in mobilising the Indian masses, deploying a rhetoric and appeal which provided a link between a traditionalist peasantry and the Indian middle class. They argued that while Gandhi appeared to stand for the interests of the masses, he was in fact an agent of the bourgeoisie, always serving their interests when it came to the crunch. He was, furthermore, criticised on the left for his focus on social and moral issues, such as untouchability and the ‘evil’ of liquor-drinking, which were seen to be ‘distractions’ from the central struggle against colonialism and class- based exploitation.


Gandhi found himself in sharp disagreement also with Islamic separatists who became of increasing political importance in India from the rnid-1920s. Muslims made up about a quarter of the entire population of the subcontinent and were in a majority in the north-west and in east Bengal. The demand led, in 1940, to the demand for a separate nation-state for Muslims in the Muslim-majority areas, to be called Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, an old political rival of Gandhi, be- came the leader of this movement. Jinnah took the issue to the streets in 1946, which led to terrible riots in Calcutta and then other parts of India. The Congress leaders began to view Muslim-majority areas as a possible liability for the fledgling nation-state, and decided reluctantly in 1947 to agree to the division of the subcontinent into two nations-India and Pakistan. Gandhi believed this to be a tragic mistake that negated the secular principles of the nationalist movement. His fears were realised when the process of partition, which began on 15 August 1947, led to a genocidal conflict between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in the north-west of the subcontinent. Hundreds of thousands died and millions became refugees. Gandhi worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of that terrible time, fasting to maintain communal peace, and insisting that the Muslims who remained in India should be treated as full and respected citizens of the new nation-state. Many Hindus saw him as pandering to these supposed ‘traitors from within’, and in January 1948 a Hindu extremist assassinated him at a prayer meeting in Delhi.


From all this, it is clear that Gandhi had many opponents, detractors and enemies throughout his life. He was accused, variously, of being an irresponsible trouble-maker by his colonial masters, a destroyer of social harmony by Indian traditionalists, a backward-looking crank by modernisers and progressives, an authoritarian leader by those within the movement who resented his style of leadership, a Hindu chauvinist by many Muslims, and a defender of high-caste elitism by lower-caste activists.


Some historians have argued that Gandhi’s significance was limited to a specific historical situation-that of the decline of European colonialism at a time when it was in any case a waning force in the world. It is argued that Gandhi could only have succeeded against the relatively benign and liberal British; more ruthless rulers would have crushed him and his movement without a qualm. Others argue that Gandhi’s particular brand of nationalism was important in mobilising the masses, but that it had to give way in time to the more hard-headed nationalism of state power and rapid economic development. Partha Chatterjee has thus described the Gandhian period in Indian history as a ‘moment of manoeuvre’, arguing that it was superseded by a more mature national capitalist ideology in the Nehruvian ‘moment of arrival’. Gail Omvedt has claimed in like vein: ‘The events of independence and partition brought a near-complete marginalisation of Gandhi and Gandhism.


The problem with arguments such as these is that they fail to help us understand the reasons why Gandhi’s ideas continue to resonate in the world today. It is hardly adequate, for example, to see Gandhi merely as a backward-looking representative of a ‘traditional’ culture that was being destroyed inexorably by the forces of modernity. Although a few of his admirers may have been and continue to be driven by a nostalgia for a romanticised past, the majority have been and are moved by a strong desire to evolve a better world in the light of existing realities. We have to try to situate Gandhi’s controversial legacy within the modern world in a more satisfactory manner.


In this book, I intend to examine Gandhi as a figure whose life and work represented a dialogue between the many complex strands of thought of his day, both Indian and extra-Indian, as well as his legacy in India and the world since his death. Gandhi, on the one hand, cast a critical eye over his own society, deploying against it some of the values of the European Enlightenment, such as the doctrines of human rights, egalitarianism and democracy. On the other hand, being a colonised subject who resented most keenly the inferior status imposed on him by an imperial system) his positions were inevitably highly critical of many strands of this thought, such as its belief in the superiority of Western culture, its materialism and what he regarded as its amoral pursuit of knowledge. He claimed that in many areas of life, Indian values were better by far.


In his debate with the British who ruled India in his day, Gandhi deployed several thinkers who came from the European intellectual tradition. Those whom he endorsed most strongly tended to be ones who were most critical of the ruling ideologies of their societies, and Gandhi drew on them to advance his own critique of the systems of thought associated with the hegemony of British imperialism. In this respect he was involved in a continuing dialogue with thinkers located outside India who were by no means marginal figures, but, in many cases, respected theorists whose critiques might be disputed, but could hardly be ignored.








Introduction: The Gandhian Dialogic



An Incorporative Nationalism



Forging a Nationalist Hegemony



The Disciplined Nation



Invented Histories of the Nation



Dialogic Resistance



Popular Forms of Mass Resistance in India






Individual Conscience






Satyagraha Within the Indian Polity



An Alternative Modernity



Hind Swaraj



A Gandhian Civilisation



The Constructive Programme



Gandhi, Socialism, and the Doctrine of Trusteeship



The Gandhian Critique Beyond India



Father of the Nation



Gandhi’s Family Life



Gandhi and Sexual Desire



Marriage and Patriarchy



Women and Satyagraha



The Critique of Patriarchy



Dalit and Adivasi Assertion









Dalits, Adivasis, and the Indian Nation



Fighting Religious Hatreds



Gandhi, Muslims, and Hindu Nationalists



The ‘National Duty’ of the Hindu Patriot



Gandhi and Christianity



Partition and Gandhi’s ‘Finest Hour’



Gandhian Anti-Communal Work Since Independence



Gandhian Activism in India After Independence



The Bhoodan and Gramdan Movements



The Naxalite Alternative



The JP Movement



JP’s ‘Total Revolution’



The Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini



Women and Anti-Liquor Movements in India



Vahini and Women’s Rights



Chipko Andolan



Narmada Bachao Andolan



Gandhian Activism Since 1980



Gandhi’s Global Legacy



Some Contemporary Western Reactions



Gandhi and the Pacifist Movement



Gandhian Resistance on a World Stage



The African-American Struggle in the USA



The Revolt Against Apartheid in South Africa



Petra Kelly and the German Greens



The Moral Activists’ Lonely Path to Martyrdom












M.K. Gandhi



Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi, Johannesburg, July 1914



Gandhi on the Salt March, 1930



Gandhi in London, 1931



B.R Ambedkar



Gandhi in dialogue with Jawaharlal Nehru, Delhi, 2 October



Jayaprakash Narayan, 1940s



Vinoba Bhave on the Bhoodan march, 1950s



Medha Patkar



Protest against the Narmada dam



Martin Luther King leads march in Selma, Alabama, 30 March 1965, © Hulton Getty



Petra Kelly



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