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The relevance of Gandhi, if any

Darryl Naranjit's Truth and Power: Gandhi's Political Philosophy has raised a new debate on the relevance of Gandhian philosophy in the 21st century.

books Updated: Sep 19, 2007 15:33 IST

A book on Mahatma Gandhi by a Trinidadian has raised a new debate on the relevance of Gandhian philosophy in the 21st century.

Darryl Naranjit's Truth and Power: Gandhi's Political Philosophy gives a cogent analysis of the political, economic, social and spiritual strategies of Gandhi in his quest for equality for the Blacks and Indians in South Africa. It also studies Gandhi's struggle in India and how he helped to dismantle the British empire.

In the introduction to the book, published by Just World Publications, Naranjit says: "Underneath the simple words and phrases (of Gandhi) that appear almost as platitudes, there is a meaning, a philosophy that challenges modern Western Thought at its core. This book is written as an attempt to uncover the meanings hidden in those simple words and phrases."

It is no easy task to fully understand and contrast Gandhi's philosophy with two modern thinkers - Machiavelli and Nietzsche - but Naranjit does it with understanding and meaning.

American political thinker Leo Strauss has written about three waves of modernity beginning with Machiavelli, continuing with Rossueau and ending with Nitzsche, and goes even further to Platonic political philosophy to correct the "immoderation" of modernity.

In a similar approach, Gandhi sought refuge in ancient Indian philosophy to correct the "immoderation" of modern civilization, the author says.

"This immoderation arises out of a lack of wisdom, which denies the possibility of truth and hence denies the moral law of the universe," Naranjit says. According to him, one consequence of this was the separation of ethics from politics.

Gandhi calls for a return to ancient Indian wisdom to combat this denial of truth and this separation.

"What he calls for is a new civilization based on satya and ahimsa (truth and non-violence) in order to avoid the destructiveness of modern civilisation. Such a warning is both timely and relevant to a world now caught up in a spiral of violence and hate," the author writes, advancing Gandhi as a thinker who has something of great importance to say in our troubled times.

Naranjit states that according to Gandhi, the function of "the spirit is to assert the truth. Truth and Being are inextricably bound together".

He wades through several aspects of Indian and Western commentators of civilization. In the Indian tradition he looks at: Development of the Tradition, Vedic Age, Upanishadic Age, Age of Buddhism, Age of Gita and Age of Sankara.

One chapter, 'Confrontation With The West', reviews subjects like Western imperialism, the Indian response and Gandhi's political philosophy. Another looks at what the author considers 'True Civilization'.

The fourth and final chapter takes a critical outlook on the 'Importance of Gandhi'.

Naranjit summarises Gandhi's approach to a safe and sane global society.

"Gandhi replaced the imperialist's project with a new constructive vision for the world. Rather than a world filled with perpetual strife, a world which could not envision its meaning, its purpose because strife is inherently destructive and signifies a breakdown of the unity of purpose." (page 98)

Gandhi held out the prospect of the world evolving towards peace and justice through non-violence and truth. He offered, therefore, hope to a world that appeared to be wrapped up in irresolvable conflicts.

"He also carefully outlined the means for attaining justice and peace - satyagraha - a method that placed faith in the power of the spirit rather than in weapons of war."

Naranjit must be commended for his deep research, judging from his rich and diversified application of the bibliography he used.

Students of world history, politics, sociology and philosophy will find "Truth and Power" a great piece of resource material as they pursue their research in various disciplines.

It aims at fully understanding a noble thinker, leader, spiritualist and philosopher - all in one human frame. This book could raise a new debate and a new hunger for Gandhi.

Born in Couva, Central Trinidad, Naranjit studied mathematics and philosophy at McMaster University and did post-graduate work in philosophy at Brock and York University, Canada.

Naranjit was president of the South Asian students organisation at McMaster University and visited India on a Shastri Indo-Canadian Fellowship. He is also author of The Righteous State and Communication, Intention and Reality.