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Critics Have Only Strengthened Gandhi, Says Scholar

November 2005
Critics Have Only Strengthened Gandhi, Says Scholar

Gandhi haters have only made him more human, according to a history scholar. Vinay Lal, a professor at UCLA, shed light on the many groups and individuals?supporters and opponents of Gandhi?who pointed out the weaknesses in the man and in his beliefs and statements.

Lal was the speaker at a lecture organized by the Asian Studies program at Emory University, the Gandhi Foundation of USA (GFUSA), the Hightower Fund, and Emory's Institute for Comparative and International Studies to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi's 136th birth anniversary on October 2. Lal spoke on "The Gandhi Everyone Loves to Hate" in the Jones Room at Emory's Woodruff Library.

The event, designed in part to explore the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi and his thought to today's world, was well attended by members of the community as well as university scholars.

Madhavi Dave opened the afternoon with a stirring rendition of Gandhi's favorite prayer, Vaishnav Jan Toh. Her deeply moving song reminded all that the day's events were a celebration of Gandhi's life and thoughts. Following this reflective hymn, Giriraj Rao, president and founder of (GFUSA), delivered opening remarks punctuated with his memories of participating in the "Quit India" movement launched by the Mahatma in 1942. Rao, educated at UC Berkeley, retired as a senior scientist from Coca-Cola. He shared stories of his time as a student in India and the impact made on him by Gandhi and his movement, and of his life in California and Atlanta many years after, years that were spent keeping Gandhi's legacy alive. He spoke of his relationship with the Martin Luther King Junior Center and the combined effort of the King Center and other local groups to bring a statue of Gandhi to Atlanta.

Deepika Bahri, director of the Asian Studies program at Emory, introduced the accomplished and prolific Vinay Lal, who received his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago's Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Lal, who joined the history department at UCLA in 1993, discussed the many different ways in which these dissenters chose to "hate" Gandhi, or at least find fault in the man and his movement. From Gandhi's designation as the "Father of India," to the way he practiced Hinduism, to his personal quirks and behavior, Lal proposed that these very things that others believed were shortcomings served also to make him a more attractive figure. These qualities, he felt, revealed a complex and nuanced worldview that continues to elude the casual critic.

Lal, who has authored several books, reminded the audience to consider the relevance of Gandhi's thinking for many pressing issues. "Now that the dam of development has broken, figuratively and otherwise, Gandhi is being brought back through such ideas as ‘sustainable development,' ‘development with a human face,' and ‘alternative technologies,'" Lal, who is also a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, said. "The time may not be very far when even Gandhi's idea of ‘trusteeship,' which all but the obdurate and true-blooded Gandhians have completely obscured, is resuscitated? as a way of enhancing our ecological awareness that we are morally obligated to act as the trustees of the multiple inheritances bequeathed to us by previous generations."

Uma Majmudar of Emory's Department of Religion opened up a thought-provoking discussion after the lecture. Majmudar, the author of Gandhi's Pilgrimage of Faith: From Darkness to Light and a well-known local scholar and lecturer, is also the founder and editor of the Voice of India. She agreed that the critiques of Gandhi only added to his charisma and his effect on his followers. She proposed that the many different versions of Gandhi contained in one man allowed him to appeal to so many varied groups, and that the feminine and masculine aspects of Gandhi that Lal mentioned were quite important in making Gandhi so deeply effective. A series of audience questions for Lal and Majmudar followed, highlighting the controversies that have surrounded Gandhi, the need to return to his thought and his legacy.

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