Gandhi and South Africa

Martha C. Nussbaum

At the end of March, the Indian state of Gujarat banned the printing and distribution of Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India. The ban was proposed by the state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, and it passed unanimously, as leaders of the Congress party vied to surpass Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in denouncing Lelyveld’s new book. The focus of the uproar was a claim made by Britain’s Daily Mail and, somewhat more subtly, by the Wall Street Journal, that Great Soul portrays Gandhi as a bisexual or homosexual. The headline in the Daily Mail blared: Gandhi “Left His Wife to Live With a Male Lover” New Book Claims. The “love of his life”—as the Journal put it—was a German-Jewish architect named Hermann Kallenbach, with whom Gandhi developed a deep friendship while trying out his ideas of nonviolent resistance in South Africa, where he lived from 1893 to 1914. Not to be outdone, Modi complained that Lelyveld’s book defames the Mahatma: “The writing is perverse in nature. It has hurt the sentiments of those with capacity for sane and logical thinking.”

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