John Sainsbury: Gandhi's Ghost Haunts Modern India

Roundup: Historians' Take

John Sainsbury is a professor of history at Brock University.

A frail man, Anna Hazare, goes on a hunger strike to protest corruption in India. Thousands rally to his cause in New Dehli. The old man is arrested and protests spread nationwide. Rahul Gandhi, scion of the family that dominates the ruling National Congress Party, orders Hazare released. Hazare refuses to leave prison until the government promises to allow his campaign to continue freely. The government buckles and Hazare continues his fast.

For those with long memories or some knowledge of history, the events playing out in India evoke a sense of déjà-vu. They recall the non-violent campaign of Mohandas Gandhi — revered by his followers as “Mahatma” (Great Soul) — to win independence for his country and the erratic response of the ruling British to his methods. (Mohandas Gandhi, it should be noted, shared the name of the powerful Gandhi dynasty, but he was not its ancestor.)

The parallels are stronger given that Hazare was himself a disciple of Gandhian philosophy.

But before we run too far with the idea that history is repeating itself, we need to recognize some differences…


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