Andrew Roberts’ review of Joseph Lelyveld’s book Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, written in an extremely acerbic style, has created a storm of controversy leading to the proscription of the book by the Gujarat State government (which has been denounced by all right thinking people of this country). Through a widely published statement the author of the book has repudiated the insinuating conclusions of the reviewer, affirming that he never intended them. No comment from Andrew Roberts on Mr. Joseph Lelyveld’d disavowal has yet appeared on the net. So, one can characterize the review as a sort of literary ventriloquism. As the book is yet to be released in India practically none has really read it (except a few select friends of Lelyveld who were fortunate to receive the American edition) and so goes the confession of all those who commented on the controversy. Of course, part of the comments were provoked by the invective review and the rest by the typical Indian (force of) habit of commenting on anything that come your way, unmindful of whether you have any competence to do so.
Taking book reviews seriously is part of established academic practice. Reviews are often signposts to authentic works. As the number of academic books published each year is astoundingly large, one is compelled to be selective and therefore, one has to rely upon standard reviews, i.e., reviews published in established journals and written by renowned scholars, to decide which book(s) to read and/or recommend. Some times reviews are used in marketing as well. It is important, thus, to see the overall significance of this exercise.
We have to look at Andrew Roberts’ review of Joseph Lelyveld’s book on Gandhi bearing these basic factors in mind. The reason why serious readers are repelled by the review is not so much the reviewer’s eagerness to paint Gandhi in dark/blue colours as his studied attempt to caricature him as a ‘political incompetent’, ‘fanatical faddist’ and ‘sexual weirdo’, thus utterly trivializing the mighty saga of Gandhi’s historic experiments with truth and his historic fight against British imperialism which brought the most powerful empire of the time to its knees. Andrew Roberts, for example, asserts that Gandhi was a ‘ceaseless self promoter’, ‘downright cruel to those around him’, and goes to the extent of arguing that “Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals”. This could easily be verified against facts and proven totally baseless. There are any number of personal witnesses of the individual attention received from Gandhi offered by people who got the opportunity to work with him. When members of the Ashram fell sick he personally attended to their needs, nursed them and sometimes even treated them on their choice. The care he took of the leprosy-stricken Parchure Shastri, a Sanskrit scholar, by accommodating him in the Ashram and daily nursing him personally by dressing his wounds had become almost legendary at his own life time. The number of people who personally visited him seeking his advice was astoundingly large, yet no genuine seeker had to go away disappointed. The care he took to write replies in his own hand to the incredibly large number of letters he received daily is another point in hand. The way people wrote Gandhi’s address was unparalleled in the history of postal system. Mahatma jaham ho vaham (which can be translated as: Wherever the Mahatma is There), is the address you find written on a postal envelope sent to Gandhi. One has only to skip through the pages of Mahadev Desai’s Diary or any of the various compilations of Gandhi’s personal anecdotes to verify this. (One wonders how ‘the progressive 20th century intellectuals’, if there are any such, would respond to Andrew Roberts’ attempt to elevate Gandhi to be their godfather; one could be sure that Gandhi himself would have politely declined that slanderous offer.)
The chunk of this review is nothing but old wine in a new bottle, a recapitulation of the same old allegations, many of which were directly thrown at Gandhi during his life time itself and answered by him. Though Andrew Roberts’ charges against Gandhi are many, the most unpardonable and condemnable for him seems to be the stand he took in the Jewish cause. Gandhi’s advice to the Jews to use only nonviolent resistance to Nazi onslaught appears sheer madness for Roberts. He seems to believe that the Nazis would certainly have ruthlessly annihilated them all. What does history really show us? For this it would be appropriate here to draw his attention to books like The Power of Nonviolence by Richard B. Gregg and The Politics of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp. Gregg gives examples of how the Danes and the Norwegians successfully resisted the Nazis non-violently (remember that the Nazi’s wrath against the Danes was the result of Denmark giving asylum to the Jews in their country). Gene Sharp in The Politics of Nonviolent Action narrates the successful nonviolent resistances of teachers during the Nazi occupation of Norway. The Norwegian Fascist "minister-President," Vidkun Quisling, set out to establish the Corporative State on Mussolini's model, selecting teachers as the first "corporation." For this he created a new teacher's organization with compulsory membership and appointed as its leader the head of the Hird, the Norwegian S.A. (Storm Troopers.) Between 8,000 and 10,000 of the country's 12,000 teachers resisted nonviolently, ignoring the threat of dismissal and closing down of the schools. About 1,000 male teachers were arrested and sent to concentration camps. In the camps, the Gestapo imposed an atmosphere of terror intended to induce capitulation. On starvation rations, the teachers were put through "torture gymnastics" in deep snow. When only a few gave in, "treatment" continued….. However, their suffering strengthened morale on the home front and posed problems for Quisling's regime. Quisling finally ordered the teacher's release. Eight months after the arrests, the last teachers returned home to triumphal receptions.” Gene Sharp also gives the Berlin example of 1943: “It is widely believed that once the ‘Final Solution,’ the annihilation of Europe's Jews, was under way, no nonviolent action to save German Jews occurred and that none could have been effective. This belief is challenged by an act of nonviolent defiance by the non-Jewish wives of arrested Berlin Jews. This limited act of resistance occurred in the midst of the war, in the capital of the Third Reich, toward the end of the inhuman effort to make Germany free of Jews - all highly unfavorable conditions for successful opposition. The defiance not only took place, but was completely successful, even in 1943.”
Thus it becomes clear that Gandhi’s advice to the Jews was neither whimsical nor quixotic, as Roberts seems to think, but an expression of his strong conviction about the efficacy of active nonviolence. Gandhi believed that nonviolence to be worth its name must work against the strongest, not weak, opponent. Similarly, addressing Hitler as ‘Friend’, might be disgusting to Roberts but is fully in consonance with Gandhian ethos for Gandhi believed that all human beings, including Hitler, are links in the vast web of life and that all are basically good and no one is beyond redemption.
Andrew Roberts is contemptuous of Gandhi’s advice to the Jews of Palestine to "rely on the goodwill of the Arabs" and wait for a Jewish state "till Arab opinion is ripe for it"; and also about Gandhi drawing a parallel between the British Government and the Third Reich. Unfortunately, more than giving vent to his resentment, he does not argue his case properly. It is well-known that the Jewish leaders sought Gandhi’s support and approval (for the Zionist cause) as they thought that it would make the Jewish cause more acceptable internationally. But Gandhi disapproved the Zionist project on political and religious grounds. He could never concede the logic of religious nationalism and hence, although he had sympathy for the Jews who have been “more sinned against than sinning”, their attempt to establish a nation based on religion and with the manipulative support of Western powers, particularly the British, was totally unacceptable to Gandhi. He wrote: “My sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and in the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after their return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?"
Gandhi was approached by such intimate friends and eminent people as Herman Kallenbach, his great American supporter and pacifist John Haynes Holmes, Sydney Silverman, an advocate of Indian independence in Britain, Louis Fischer, Gandhi's famous biographer, well known Jewish pacifist Martin Buber, to mention a few. Even under such strong pressure Gandhi stood his ground and he made his position unequivocally clear thus: "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs... Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home."
Further, Andrew Roberts asserts that “Mr. Lelyveld shows how implacably racist he (Gandhi) was toward the blacks of South Africa.” Mr. Lelyveld, on his part, has made it clear in his press statement that he never intended to portray Gandhi as racist. The argument of Roberts centres around two sentences of Gandhi, said to be cited by Mr. Lelyveld in his book and the key sentence being: "We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized—the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals." This is an incomplete or wrong quotation. Lelyveld or Roberts has left out one crucial sentence which follows the first sentence in this quotation which reads: “It is indubitably right that Indians should have separate cells [from Blacks].” One is astonished at this critical but suspicious omission and it appears that with this sentence in place the intention of Gandhi would be indisputably clear, thus making distortion difficult.
It is a typical case of quoting out of context, “distorted from their setting” (to use Gandhi’s own words), and so the context has to be made clear. One must know that the term ‘Kaffirs’ was commonly used to refer to the natives of South Africa. In physical might and prowess the natives simply out did the Indians and even scared them. And the Whites used the Natives less as labourers compared to Indians, but more as policemen and jail warders, and also as jail co-inmates of the Indians, and co-habitants in the locations. The comment of Gandhi that “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized – the convicts more so” is a statement of fact based on the experience of the Indians, and not a value judgement. The convict-Kaffirs often manhandled the Indian convicts so rudely that generally they were afraid to share the prison cells with them. In jail, Gandhi himself was once tossed up like a pancake by a Kaffir but he escaped without suffering serious injuries as he clutched on to the door panel with both hands. Gandhi did not want the Indian political prisoners to be jailed with the native convicts as the Indians were mortally afraid of them and not because of any racial considerations. It is important to recall here that although Gandhi mentioned the backwardness of the natives and the evils that bedeviled them, he was extremely sympathetic to them and their cause. He did not complain when he was manhandled by the Kaffir in jail for he sympathized with the assailant who for him was a victim of circumstances. In Phoenix and Tolstoy Farm the inmates were advised to give up using coco, coffee and sugar because the Kaffirs had been forced to labour on them as slaves. Explaining the reason why he decided to travel only third class in South Africa, Gandhi wrote: ". . . I shuddered to read about the account of the hardships that the Kaffirs had to suffer in the third-class carriages in the Cape and I wanted to experience the same hardship myself…” It is indeed true that Gandhi did not hold the brief for the natives of South Africa nor did he fight for them. Obviously that was not on his agenda. Educating and mobilising the Indian community in S. Africa itself was a formidable challenge for a beginner in public life like Gandhi and justifiably he dedicated himself heart and soul into that task to the exclusion of serving others. But he always considered both Indians and the Kaffirs on a par as victims of injustice and humiliation as they were equally deprived of civil and human right. When such a person is charged with racial prejudice it is natural to suspect some ulterior motive in that charge.
Andrew Roberts’ interpretation of the nature of Gandhi’s relationship with Kallenbach presented in Lelyveld’d book is in the eye of the storm. Gandhi’s relationship with Kallenbach was very special and in order to get a clear idea of it one has to begin from how they met and got acquainted with each other. It was in a vegetarian restaurant in Johannesburg that the German engineer Kallenbach first saw Gandhi, and subsequently the engineer knocked at the door of Gandhi’s house and got introduced. They discovered that they had a great deal in common, a deep attraction for simple life and working for the good of their fellow beings. Kallenbach decided to work with Gandhi in his multi-layered experiments and he became Gandhi’s first serious ‘fellow seeker’ of truth in public life. It is important to remember that every experiment in South Africa was crucial for Gandhi, for it was part of his spiritual odyssey. While getting introduced to Gandhi, Kallenbach’s life style was ostentatious and fussy. For example he had seven different shaving kits, one for each day of the week and he enjoyed his royal shaves by a barber, lying flat on his bed. So in order to change over to a life of simplicity that Gandhi was experimenting with, he had to struggle hard and make sacrifices. And he did it with dignity and composure. He gave up his luxury gadgetry one after the other and reduced his wants to the minimum. Kallenbach was not only an architect and body builder as he is referred to in the review, but a man of several accomplishments, the most significant being his ability and willingness to learn any new skill. We see Kallenbach learning with Gandhi and mastering cobbling, carpentry, masonry, printing, etc., with enthusiasm. It was learning, growing and realizing together. Kallenbach’s dedication to Gandhi and his cause was total and selfless and so Gandhi was prompted to reflect over the nature of the relationship, of the love that bound them to each other. Rarely do we come across a companionship of this kind and its basis obviously must be something more than physical attraction or material gain. The children of the settlement used to address Kallenbach as “Hanuman uncle”, implying that his relationship with Gandhi was similar to that of Sri Ram and his most devout vanara follower Hanuman of the Indian epic Ramayana and that finally defines the nature of their relationship, particularly for Indians. The articles left by Kallenbach in Gandhi’s room were several like toothpick, comb, pen, pencil etc., and not only the cotton and Vaseline which he used for shaving (and not for any other clandestine use as ‘less generously’ hinted by the reviewer), and each of them reminds Gandhi of his friends sacrifice in the process of his evolution to a higher state and not his well-built physique. It is crude to equate Gandhi’s musings over those articles to the pangs of a bisexual lover temporarily separated from his love. Gandhi did not try to conceal the joy he felt in being blessed with so dedicated and determined a companion as Kallenbach during the formative years of his socio-political and spiritual experiments and the same is echoed in his letters. Gandhi’s words: "how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance", convey that joy. It is common experience that one cannot isolate one’s body from the process of experiencing any sublime or ecstatic emotion - mental, aesthetic or spiritual. Even sages and mystics have attested to this.Trying to vulgarise such a relationship by ferreting for carnal desire in it is in very bad taste, to say the least. One must ask: if two persons of the same sex, committed to a common cause and deeply attached to each other by love, live together in one room does it mean that their relationship is primarily sexual? It is logical to presume that culture – which includes one’s socialization as well - plays a decisive role in the formulation of such views.
We understand from one of the letters that Gandhi and Kallenbach had certain ‘contracts’ The first one was on how the two would divide work in the farm near Lawley. The second agreement was about Kallenbach going to meet his family and not spending money beyond what was "befitting the position of a simple-living poor farmer''. It also says 'Lower House'(Kallenbach’s nick name) would not look "lustfully upon any woman". The agreement signed with following line: "The consideration for all the above tasks imposed by Lower House on himself is more love, and, yet more love between the two houses — such love as, they hope, the world has not seen." The reviewer and the author (it appears) totally ignore the first two conditions of the contract and focus their curious attention on the last that Kallenbach would not lustfully look upon any woman. This condition is understood by them as suggestive of possessive sexual love or sexual loyalty, dropping the hint that Gandhi wanted Kallenbach to belong to him (physically) and to none else. One is just amazed at the extent to which the freedom to interpret texts could be stretched.
The charges of ‘nightly cuddles’ with virgins and the cruelty inherent in the pumice episode do not require further clarification or repudiation here as they have already been overdone. Here is one of Gandhi’s answers: “…. Among many other charges, the charge of sensuality is most marked. My brahmacharya is said to be a cloak to hide my sensuality. Poor Dr. Sushila Nayyar has been dragged before the public gaze for the crime of giving me massage and medicated baths, the two things for which she is the best qualified among those who surround me. The curious may be informed that there is no privacy about these operations which take over 1 ½ hours and during which I often go off to sleep but during which I also transact business with Mahadev, Pyarelal or other co-workers. The charges, to my knowledge, began with my active campaign against untouchability. . . .”(CWMG-Vol-70-p.313).
When one comes across such an invective piece of writing on Gandhi, as a book review or otherwise, one is compelled to raise a question on the intention of the writer, although Gandhi himself would not have approved of such an approach. Thus, one tries to get to know the author. The information one could gather from various websites convinces one that Andrew Roberts had a brilliant academic and writing career. His professional career too has been a saga of brilliant successes. Besides being an outstanding historian, he is a great admirer of war heroes and is an expert on war strategy. Some of his widely acclaimed books like A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 19009 (2002), Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership (January 2003), Masters and Commanders, (2008), bear testimony to this. Coming to his political views, the most notable feature of it is his support to Iraq war, which he characterized as the Fourth World War, and to the policies of George Bush and Tony Blair. He argued that the Iraq War was fought by the English speaking peoples as "an existential war for the survival of their way of life" and that "this struggle against Islamofascism is the Fourth World War"(the Third, according to him was the Cold War). His views like "the English-speaking peoples find themselves in the forefront of protecting civilization", in the Islamic world just as they were against the Nazis in the Second World War, undoubtedly, smacks of imperialism and the white man’s burden of civilising the rest other than the west. That he also serves on the advisory council of The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, and is a founder member of President Jose Maria Aznar's Friends of Israel Committee help to put several of his views in perspective.
The left wing journalist Johann Hari has pointed out that in his writings Roberts is supportive of the Amritsar massacre, the concentration camps for Afrikaners during the Anglo Boer War and mass internments in Ireland. It is pointed out that Andrew Roberts even defended the use of water-boarding by the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), writing that "sometimes the defense of liberty requires making some pretty unpalatable decisions"
It is abundantly clear from the above where Andrew Roberts’ sympathies lie. He believes in and supports most of what Gandhi rejected and fought against. So it may be that he (though unjustifiably) identifies Gandhi and his philosophy of nonviolence with its expanding constituency across the globe, as a powerful challenge to his political ideology and as an expert in the art of war, he comes down heavily on his opponent with enviable verbal dexterity and using the logic of his favourite art: all is fair in war. But students of Gandhi and nonviolence know only too well that Andrew Roberts is neither the first critic of Gandhi nor is his criticism the most devastating, nor will he be the last in the long list of detractors and so there is no point in getting worked up about it. Though his review generated more heat than light, we must thank him for the unintended light that it caused to fall on Gandhi’s life.
Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India
By Joseph Lelyveld Knopf, 425 pages, $28.95
(The Wall Street Journal, Saturday, March 26, 2011)
Joseph Lelyveld has written a generally admiring book about Mohandas Gandhi, the man credited with leading India to independence from Britain in 1947. Yet "Great Soul" also obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that he was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist—one who was often downright cruel to those around him. Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals.
For all his lifelong campaign for Swaraj ("self-rule"), India could have achieved it many years earlier if Gandhi had not continually abandoned his civil-disobedience campaigns just as they were beginning to be successful. With 300 million Indians ruled over by 0.1% of that number of Britons, the subcontinent could have ended the Raj with barely a shrug if it had been politically united. Yet Gandhi's uncanny ability to irritate and frustrate the leader of India's 90 million Muslims, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (whom he called "a maniac"), wrecked any hope of early independence. He equally alienated B.R. Ambedkar, who spoke for the country's 55 million Untouchables (the lowest caste of Hindus, whose very touch was thought to defile the four higher classes). Ambedkar pronounced Gandhi "devious and untrustworthy." Between 1900 and 1922, Gandhi suspended his efforts no fewer than three times, leaving in the lurch more than 15,000 supporters who had gone to jail for the cause.
A ceaseless self-promoter, Gandhi bought up the entire first edition of his first, hagiographical biography to send to people and ensure a reprint. Yet we cannot be certain that he really made all the pronouncements attributed to him, since, according to Mr. Lelyveld, Gandhi insisted that journalists file "not the words that had actually come from his mouth but a version he authorized after his sometimes heavy editing of the transcripts."
We do know for certain that he advised the Czechs and Jews to adopt nonviolence toward the Nazis, saying that "a single Jew standing up and refusing to bow to Hitler's decrees" might be enough "to melt Hitler's heart." (Nonviolence, in Gandhi's view, would apparently have also worked for the Chinese against the Japanese invaders.) Starting a letter to Adolf Hitler with the words "My friend," Gandhi egotistically asked: "Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success?" He advised the Jews of Palestine to "rely on the goodwill of the Arabs" and wait for a Jewish state "till Arab opinion is ripe for it."
In August 1942, with the Japanese at the gates of India, having captured most of Burma, Gandhi initiated a campaign designed to hinder the war effort and force the British to "Quit India." Had the genocidal Tokyo regime captured northeastern India, as it almost certainly would have succeeded in doing without British troops to halt it, the results for the Indian population would have been catastrophic. No fewer than 17% of Filipinos perished under Japanese occupation, and there is no reason to suppose that Indians would have fared any better. Fortunately, the British viceroy, Lord Wavell, simply imprisoned Gandhi and 60,000 of his followers and got on with the business of fighting the Japanese.
Gandhi claimed that there was "an exact parallel" between the British Empire and the Third Reich, yet while the British imprisoned him in luxury in the Aga Khan's palace for 21 months until the Japanese tide had receded in 1944, Hitler stated that he would simply have had Gandhi and his supporters shot. (Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931, with the Great Soul praising the Duce's "service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and Labour, his passionate love for his people.") During his 21 years in South Africa (1893-1914), Gandhi had not opposed the Boer War or the Zulu War of 1906—he raised a battalion of stretcher-bearers in both cases—and after his return to India during World War I he offered to be Britain's "recruiting agent-in-chief." Yet he was comfortable opposing the war against fascism.
Although Gandhi's nonviolence made him an icon to the American civil-rights movement, Mr. Lelyveld shows how implacably racist he was toward the blacks of South Africa. "We were then marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs," Gandhi complained during one of his campaigns for the rights of Indians settled there. "We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized—the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals."
In an open letter to the legislature of South Africa's Natal province, Gandhi wrote of how "the Indian is being dragged down to the position of the raw Kaffir," someone, he later stated, "whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness." Of white Afrikaaners and Indians, he wrote: "We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do." That was possibly why he refused to allow his son Manilal to marry Fatima Gool, a Muslim, despite publicly promoting Muslim-Hindu unity.
Gandhi's pejorative reference to nakedness is ironic considering that, as Mr. Lelyveld details, when he was in his 70s and close to leading India to independence, he encouraged his 17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her "nightly cuddles" with him. After sacking several long-standing and loyal members of his 100-strong personal entourage who might disapprove of this part of his spiritual quest, Gandhi began sleeping naked with Manu and other young women. He told a woman on one occasion: "Despite my best efforts, the organ remained aroused. It was an altogether strange and shameful experience."
Yet he could also be vicious to Manu, whom he on one occasion forced to walk through a thick jungle where sexual assaults had occurred in order for her to retrieve a pumice stone that he liked to use on his feet. When she returned in tears, Gandhi "cackled" with laughter at her and said: "If some ruffian had carried you off and you had met your death courageously, my heart would have danced with joy."
Yet as Mr. Lelyveld makes abundantly clear, Gandhi's organ probably only rarely became aroused with his naked young ladies, because the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908. "Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom," he wrote to Kallenbach. "The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed." For some reason, cotton wool and Vaseline were "a constant reminder" of Kallenbach, which Mr. Lelyveld believes might relate to the enemas Gandhi gave himself, although there could be other, less generous, explanations.
Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach about "how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance." Gandhi nicknamed himself "Upper House" and Kallenbach "Lower House," and he made Lower House promise not to "look lustfully upon any woman." The two then pledged "more love, and yet more love . . . such love as they hope the world has not yet seen."
They were parted when Gandhi returned to India in 1914, since the German national could not get permission to travel to India during wartime—though Gandhi never gave up the dream of having him back, writing him in 1933 that "you are always before my mind's eye." Later, on his ashram, where even married "inmates" had to swear celibacy, Gandhi said: "I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women." You could even be thrown off the ashram for "excessive tickling." (Salt was also forbidden, because it "arouses the senses.")
In his tract "Hind Swaraj" ("India's Freedom"), Gandhi denounced lawyers, railways and parliamentary politics, even though he was a professional lawyer who constantly used railways to get to meetings to argue that India deserved its own parliament. After taking a vow against milk for its supposed aphrodisiac properties, he contracted hemorrhoids, so he said that it was only cow's milk that he had forsworn, not goat's. His absolute opposition to any birth control except sexual abstinence, in a country that today has more people living on less than $1.25 a day than there were Indians in his lifetime, was more dangerous.
Telling the Muslims who had been responsible for the massacres of thousands of Hindus in East Bengal in 1946 that Islam "was a religion of peace," Gandhi nonetheless said to three of his workers who preceded him into its villages: "There will be no tears but only joy if tomorrow I get the news that all three of you were killed." To a Hindu who asked how his co-religionists could ever return to villages from which they had been ethnically cleansed, Gandhi blithely replied: "I do not mind if each and every one of the 500 families in your area is done to death." What mattered for him was the principle of nonviolence, and anyhow, as he told an orthodox Brahmin, he believed in reincarnation.
Gandhi's support for the Muslim caliphate in the 1920s—for which he said he was "ready today to sacrifice my sons, my wife and my friends"—Mr. Lelyveld shows to have been merely a cynical maneuver to keep the Muslim League in his coalition for as long as possible. When his campaign for unity failed, he blamed a higher power, saying in 1927: "I toiled for it here, I did penance for it, but God was not satisfied. God did not want me to take any credit for the work."
Gandhi was willing to stand up for the Untouchables, just not at the crucial moment when they were demanding the right to pray in temples in 1924-25. He was worried about alienating high-caste Hindus. "Would you teach the Gospel to a cow?" he asked a visiting missionary in 1936. "Well, some of the Untouchables are worse than cows in their understanding."
Gandhi's first Great Fast—undertaken despite his belief that hunger strikes were "the worst form of coercion, which militates against the fundamental principles of non-violence"—was launched in 1932 to prevent Untouchables from having their own reserved seats in any future Indian parliament. Because he said that it was "a religious, not a political question," he accepted no debate on the matter. He elsewhere stated that "the abolition of Untouchability would not entail caste Hindus having to dine with former Untouchables." At his monster rallies against Untouchability in the 1930s, which tens of thousands of people attended, the Untouchables themselves were kept in holding pens well away from the caste Hindus.
Of course, any coalition movement involves a certain degree of compromise and occasional hypocrisy. But Gandhi's saintly image, his martyrdom at the hands of a Hindu fanatic in 1948 and Martin Luther King Jr.'s adoption of him as a role model for the American civil-rights movement have largely protected him from critical scrutiny. The French man of letters Romain Rolland called Gandhi "a mortal demi-god" in a 1924 hagiography, catching the tone of most writing about him. People used to take away the sand that had touched his feet as relics—one relation kept Gandhi's fingernail clippings—and modern biographers seem to treat him with much the same reverence today. Mr. Lelyveld is not immune, making labored excuses for him at every turn of this nonetheless well-researched and well-written book.
Yet of the four great campaigns of Gandhi's life—for Hindu-Muslim unity, against importing British textiles, for ending Untouchability and for getting the British off the subcontinent—only the last succeeded, and that simply because the near-bankrupt British led by the anti-imperialist Clement Attlee desperately wanted to leave India anyhow after a debilitating world war.