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The Impossible Indian

The Impossible Indian

Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence

Faisal Devji

ISBN 9780674066724

Publication date: 09/20/2012

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The Impossible Indian offers a rare, fresh view of Gandhi as a hard-hitting political thinker willing to countenance the greatest violence in pursuit of a global vision that went far beyond a nationalist agenda. Revising the conventional view of the Mahatma as an isolated Indian moralist detached from the mainstream of twentieth-century politics, Faisal Devji offers a provocative new genealogy of Gandhian thought, one that is not rooted in a clichéd alternative history of spiritual India but arises from a tradition of conquest and violence in the battlefields of 1857.

Focusing on his unsentimental engagement with the hard facts of imperial domination, Fascism, and civil war, Devji recasts Gandhi as a man at the center of modern history. Rejecting Western notions of the rights of man, rights which can only be bestowed by a state, Gandhi turned instead to the idea of dharma, or ethical duty, as the true source of the self’s sovereignty, independent of the state. Devji demonstrates that Gandhi’s dealings with violence, guided by his idea of ethical duty, were more radical than those of contemporary revolutionists.

To make sense of this seemingly incongruous relationship with violence, Devji returns to Gandhi’s writings and explores his engagement with issues beyond India’s struggle for home rule. Devji reintroduces Gandhi to a global audience in search of leadership at a time of extraordinary strife as a thinker who understood how life’s quotidian reality could be revolutionized to extraordinary effect.

Praise

  • This powerful book brings out very clearly Gandhi's conceptions about the socially embedded but solitary moral agent and about responsibility for moral action. Devji manages to tease gently out of Gandhi's writings intellectual-political positions that both surprise and enlighten the reader. The questions he asks and the propositions he puts forward are sometimes disturbing as they challenge many of the everyday assumptions of those who connect politics to the idea of rights.

    —Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

Author

  • Faisal Devji is Reader in Indian History and Fellow of St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford.

Book Details

  • 224 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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