Had Gandhi been alive today, he would probably have been “cancelled” by most people, no matter what their political, philosophical, religious, economic or even medical views. He contradicted himself a lot and often—he was against untouchability but supported the hierarchy of caste; he recognised the gender gap yet stereotyped women as “nurturing”, “gentle” and “non-violent”, just to begin with, and yes, he could be terribly tone-deaf.
Yet, more than 70 years after his death, his ideas still generate half a dozen new books every year, and debates rage about what he said and what he meant. Every experiment—whether with ideas, food, politics or medical treatment—was documented in detail in his own words. He held revolutionary ideas yet was deeply conservative. Such contradictions are hard to process in an age of “cancel culture”, where we have to be on either one side or the other. It’s this space in between that we decided to explore in our cover story this week to mark 2 October, Gandhi’s birth anniversary. We also have a report on the changes planned for the Sabarmati Ashram and how it will affect the descendants of the original residents who still live there, and an excerpt from a new book investigating Gandhi’s assassination.
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Gandhi’s friend and political philosopher, Sir Ernest Barker, described him as “being more things than one”, a label that fits him well. Remembering that is probably a way to reconcile with the messy and conflicting ideas we encounter every day. Or as Carl Sagan wrote in The Fine Art Of Baloney Detection (in The Demon-Haunted World), “Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.”
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