Mahatma Gandhi was much more than a freedom fighter, said historian Ramachandra Guha at the launch of the second part of his biography on Gandhiji, Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World. 1914 – 1948 , here on Sunday. The first part of the biography, Gandhi Before India , was released in 2012.
“He was much more than a freedom fighter. He was a social reformer fighting against caste discrimination, religious pluralist fighting for Hindu–Muslim unity, a constructive worker working for economic self-reliance,” he said.
“Gandhi once said Swaraj was a bed with four legs: non-violence, Hindu–Muslim unity, eradication of untouchability, and economic self–reliance. I would only add removal of gender discrimination to fight against caste discrimination and environmental sustainability to economic self-reliance, and we have a vision that is contemporary and relevant even today,” he said.
He spoke at length on Gandhiji’s views on caste and untouchability. “Gandhi started by saying untouchability is bad but did not reject caste system. Then he went to temple entry, interdining, and finally intermarriage. Eradication of untouchability and [striving for] Hindu–Muslim unity were his abiding passions. No one individual could have done more. If he failed, the forces of history were against him,” he said.
Mr. Guha also argued against certain ideologues positioning Gandhiji against B.R. Ambedkar. “You need not have to choose among them. Both are important and made significant contributions. There is anger among Dalit youths in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh against Gandhi. But somehow I don’t find it in Karnataka. Three Dalit intellectuals D.R. Nagaraj, Devanur Mahadeva, and Siddalingaiah find ways to admire Gandhi along with Ambedkar. I would go with them,” he said.
Mr. Guha said Gandhiji had one of the most innovative and liberal interpretations of faith that was still contemporary at a time when competing fundamentalisms were being opposed by rationalist aethiests. “He saw every religion as a mix of truths and errors. His was the way to interpret one’s religion in the most liberal and tolerant way through interfaith dialogues. He was always inward looking,” he said.