In regard with the life of Mahatma Gandhi, Coward argues that the ideology that this great person propagated across India and the world as a whole was formed under the influence of other significant historical figures. Mahatma Gandhi had not only supporters and admirers but also critics who had different perspectives. By considering the arguments of both the legendary leader and his critics, the author in this piece decisively and authoritatively allows the reader to appreciate the strengths and the weaknesses of Mahatma Gandhi’s real contribution to the Indian nation, as well as the rest of the world. The main arguments revolve around independence and Indian nationalism assuming that Gandhi’s ideology is seen as not always immaculate contrary to what his supporters may think.

Harold Coward Book Review

This book plays a significant role in the history of India and its politics as it enlightens the reader as to the pluralist opinion that engulfed and possibly continues to engulf this nation in such aspects as independence, democracy and religion, among other things. In the book Indian Critiques of Gandhi, Harold Coward manages to present Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals in a manner that has been overlooked by most history scholars who have a keen interest in learning Gandhi’s contribution to the enlightenment and independence of India. In addition, Harold portrays Mahatma Gandhi as a magnanimous leader who later worked with his fierce critics to secure his country’s independence; however, the author failed to explore the characters of Gandhi’s critics in full to establish their motives.

In Distinct Worlds, the author argues that despite his relationship with Gandhi, Nehru was a very dynamic political activist who did not avoid stating his disagreements and often his disappointments with Gandhi’s ideologies. He saw Gandhi rather differently and considered his views to be rather simplistic and non-political, which made the leader being unable to ride the Indian nation at the next level. India was on the verge of a new awakening while the rest of the world and Nehru believed that Gandhi would have to change his perspective and anti-technological philosophies in order to move in the right direction, with the Indian population behind him. It can be noted here that Nehru is not only a friend and possibly a confidant but also a strong critic who was always willing to express his concerns about India under the guidance of Gandhi (Coward 2003).

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Untouchability is in this case a key point for Gandhi’s criticism. He may not have believed in untouchability, but he certainly did not dedicate himself to dissolving the caste system that at the time was perceived as a problem. In this argument, the author portrays Gandhi’s inadequacy with respect to fighting for the cause of the untouchables in a manner that would have appeased them. However, he employed a different tactic that did not involve dissolving the caste system but elevated the status of the untouchables giving them equal rights instead of the intended autonomy and privileges that they felt they could have.

In Indian Nationalism, Gandhi fails to see the significance of requesting for self rule rather than independence. The non-cooperation ideology here is heavily criticized based on its unsettling nature that would create a rift with the colonial masters. In this case, Annie Bensant is seen trying to convince Gandhi of the evils of fighting for independence through non-cooperation; however, he does not heed her arguments, and in the end, the Indian people get their independence. On one hand, Gandhi was right to fight for India’s independence, but as Annie Bensant had predicted, there was a heavy cost to pay, and in this case, it was the war with England.

Nonviolence as a central concept in Gandhi’s philosophy is criticized in the context of its limitations with respect to solving the problems of the Indian people and humanity’s struggles in general. On one hand, Nonviolence may be considered as a positive concept for maintaining peace; but with the extremist sentiments of the Gandhian ideologies, it becomes the vulnerability that would expose the Indian nation to so many adversaries.

The remainder of the book then argues about the various groups that had issues with the Gandhian philosophy including the Hindu Mahasabha, the Christian community, the Sikhs and the Indian Muslims. Gandhi is also criticized based on his handling of the Hindu Urdu Question, with a special emphasis on the relevance of his actions considering that he is blamed for the separatist mindset that divided the Muslims and the Hindus in India in the first place.

From this book, it can be distinguished that the authors are generally looking for the distinctions in Gandhi’s relationship and perspectives within his circle. Although most of his critics are seen as close friends and acquaintances, it can also be noted that some of these individuals never met him in person, and thus their criticism was based purely on rational reasoning but not on personal connections and sentiments. Nevertheless, some of his close friends also offer very strong critique that contains a generally close argument, which, however, did not affect Gandhi’s opinion or conduct.

Evaluation and Analysis

Distinct Worlds

Jawaharlal Nehru was a close friend and admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, but he did not share the legend’s viewpoint in a number of subjects. In the book, it can be seen that Nehru had a radically different mindset, especially in matters such as technology and reality. He considered Mahatma Gandhi a common man who had rather antitechnological and thus pre-modern views. Nehru especially disagreed with Gandhi on the anti-British mentality that demonized all foreign influences brought about by the country’s colonization by the British Empire. In the book, Harold Coward claims that Nehru saw Gandhi as a rather unpolitical person with a simplistic approach. This did not depreciate his admiration for Gandhi’s heroic actions within India and beyond it, but it does prove the fact that Mahatma Gandhi indeed surrounded himself with people from other philosophies and schools of thought. Coward also argues that Nehru’s deep ideological differences shaped the history of India in that it allowed Gandhi to see the other side of his ideology. He may not always have heeded Nehru’s counsel, but he was able to listen to the counterarguments whenever he could. Some of the credible examples provided by the author include non-violence and the suspension on non-cooperative movements in India.


Dr. Rao Ambedkar is another outspoken critic of Gandhi who is discussed in the book. He is an untouchable who seeks to fight for the oppressed in the Indian society. It can be appreciated that Mahatma Gandhi did not believe in untouchability and that he himself was a great revolutionary for the causes of equality and the eradication of outcasteness. Thus, it is interesting why an untouchable individual would criticize this great mind. The author explains that Dr. Rao Ambedkar’s quarrel with the Gandhi was based on the fact that Gandhi’s interests went beyond the needs of the outcastes (Coward 2003). He did not devote himself to fighting for their equal rights but rather sought to eliminate their oppression. Dr. Ambedkar wanted Gandhi to empower the oppressed classes by giving them privileges that would ensure they had a political power and social strength regardless of the caste they belonged to. However, Gandhi believed in a complete social democracy where castes were not eliminated, but rather outcasteness became history. The author also argues that this particular critic was fastidious in his call to Gandhi’s championing the rights of the oppressed classes and becoming their hero instead of appearing to fight for the larger society. In regard with untouchability and social equality, it can be noted that a number of people at the time considered Gandhi as a spokesperson for the upper classes that were comfortable with the status quo. Nevertheless, it is more appropriate to see Gandhi only focusing on the sustainability of his actions and legislations. He did not need the laws to acknowledge and respect the untouchables but rather the people to be willing to embrace them and see them as a part of the mainstream society.

Indian Nationalism

Annie Besant was a pro-nationalist from England whose interests centred around supporting England’s influence on India but fighting for the self-rule such that the Indian government would be able to deal with their own matters as they saw fit. However, this contradicted Gandhi’s dream of independence from the British Empire. The author here argues that being a woman in power in India at a time when orthodox Hinduism oppressed both the women and children, Annie was a great mind and her opinion was highly appreciated in Indian political class. She may have been infamous for her revolutionary views, but she was a very powerful person within her circles. In this case, Home Rule as advocated for by Besant was a way to establish sovereignty in a gradual and rather peaceful way as compared to the revolutionary and chaotic way that Gandhi was promoting. Her ideas in this regard went unheeded, and in the end, it was Gandhi who finished leading the nation to independence despite the chaos and disagreements that arouse between India and England. Another aspect of Annie Besant’s contribution to India’s nationalism would be the connection between religion and politics. Gandhi can hardly be called a very religious man (Coward 2003). He believed in the supernatural, but he did not consider religion to play an important role in matters of the state. However, his interaction with Annie Besant changed this perspective and enabled Gandhi to appreciate the role of religion thus redefining Indian nationalism.


Sri Aurobindo Ghose is a renowned Indian nationalist who openly criticized the Gandhian concept of nonviolence. Sri Aurobindo was a guru who never actually met Gandhi in person although the two men knew each other given that they were both popular and their ideologies were widespread. In this book, the author points out the fact that Sri Aurobindo Ghose was not a Gandhian, and thus, his criticism of Gandhi’s ideology is rather rational and not sentimental or biased in their inspiration. According to Sri Aurobindo, Gandhi’s stand and emphasis on nonviolence was rather limited in its potential for aiding humanity in its real struggle. As explained by the author here, nonviolence was totally acceptable in the context of a growing nation that still had much to learn. However, its centrality to the Gandhian philosophy hoever made humanity seem very simplistic and their struggles extremely easy. In his wisdom as a guru, writer and later yogi, Sri Aurobindo was able to study the subject of humanity in depth and breadth, and in the end, he concluded that the consideration for nonviolence in the Gandhian philosophy is noble in the context that it is peaceful. However, the Indian people need to know and understand that they have to fight for their rights and sustain their position even if it meant walking the line between life and death. In this case, his criticism is based on the significance of circumstances that can only be surmounted practically. In this case, nonviolence would make the people vulnerable to their violent adversaries who have proven to advocate against the Gandhian philosophy. The author here argues that Sri Aurobindo’s perspective brings to light the flaws in Gandhi’s emphasis on nonviolence, especially in the way that it opens the nation to destruction by external enemies who do not subscribe to the same ideology.

Hindu Mahasabha

The Hindu Mahasabha was a group of Hindu leaders who opposed to the idea of a separate state based on religion. They recognized India as a Hindu state and were thus more comfortable if it remained that way. When Muslims were given a separate political leverage with the backing of Mahatma Gandhi, this group strongly criticized the move. They were not in support of a separate political outfit aimed at appeasing the other religions. In this book, the author argues that the Hindu Mahasabha was a group of Hindu leaders who had the interests of the Indian populace at heart. As one would expect, they were fighting for a united India that did not in any way recognize other religions as part of the political leadership. Rather than the separate electorate created for their Muslim brethren, they wanted a united India where all the people had the same level of power. The Hindu Mahasabha specifically blamed Gandhi for the formation of Pakistan, a separate Muslim state that had the audacity to move away from the Hindu roots of the larger India. It is this criticism that later led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi whose appeasing tendencies towards the Muslims and the British were seen as those misguiding the nation and leading the Indian people to their doom.

Christian Community

Mahatma Gandhi’s view on Christianity was rather stubborn and persistent, and it never changed even considering the deep friendship he had with some of the Christian missionaries. At the time, Christians in India were seen as denationalized individuals who could not demonstrate their nationalistic views (Coward 2003). At some point, the Indian-Christians were publicly known to oppose the idea of self-rule to the point that they were publishing in newspapers in pursuit of the colonial powers to object to the idea. Gandhi’s view on Christianity was mutually exclusive with nationalism. Owing to its foreign origin, the Christian faith was heavily associated with foreign domination in all aspects of life including politics and society.

The irony is that Gandhi himself believed in making personal sacrifices and practicing strict discipline in all aspects of one’s life. However, he did not consider Christianity as a way of life that also respected the concept of making the same sacrifices and following a set order in terms of morals and social relationships. In this book, it is argued that the Christian community did not appreciate Gandhi’s philosophies on a number of subjects including the significance of their faith in their life as Indians. The Christians were especially distraught by the way Gandhi saw them as less Indians due to the fact that they subscribed to Christianity as their chosen religion. The criticism of the Christian community often went unheeded despite the closeness that some of the missionaries enjoyed in their relationship with Gandhi. Some of them even took their time to study his ideas, but he never listened to their concerns. It can be observed in this book that Gandhi is portrayed in his rigidity with respect to ideas and perspectives as a man who barely changed his mind.


The Sikhs were generally disappointed with Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology. Gandhi was known to endear himself to the Sikhs often referring himself to one of them. He was a disciple of the Guru Granth and he even borrowed numerous Sikh influences for his own prayers and arguments. However, the book here indicates that his affiliation for this group could hardly be called mutual. They considered him a man with no conviction seeing as he was claiming to belong to all religions at the same time. He also broke a number of promises, one of which was the deep Sikh blue that was expected to feature in the Indian flag upon its independence. It can be seen that in as far as religious groups go, the Sikhs significantly influenced Gandhi’s views, but they remained silent or rather mildly critical of his ideas and actions. On the other hand, Gandhi was growing increasingly suspicious of the Sikhs as they seemed to be intending to become an exclusive community within India. Their demands for autonomy in matters of culture and religion were in some ways intriguing, and they managed to distinguish his suspicion, which probably lead to his withdrawal from supporting their cause. At this time, the government had only increased their repression of the Sikhs, and it can be noticed that they lost their faith in Gandhi’s ability to champion their cause and get them the kind of power and recognition that they were fighting for.

Indian Muslims

In regard with this aspect, the author considers only the Indian Muslims who had known and worked with Mahatma Gandhi in person. It can be appreciated that the opinions of the Muslims with respect to Gandhi’s ideology is somehow torn in the middle. The Muslims generally appreciated the fact that Gandhi had provided them with some level of autonomy in terms of their political position within the Indian nation. However, they were also aware of the amount of division that had been cultivated as a result of this miscalculation. There were so many divisions in India, for example, those between the Muslims and the Hindus, and even Muslims and other Muslims based on Gandhi’s ideas. The author here argues that there were four categories of criticism that Gandhi got from the Indian Muslims including those friendly disagreements, varying policy convictions, direction of Gandhi’s leadership for India, and the continuing shift in Gandhi’s stand on a number of issues. It can be noted here that the book presents Gandhi as a dynamic leader who sought to embrace everyone who he found agreeable but was unable to take a stand and support one specific group at the expense of another. In general, he is seen fighting more for India as a whole than for any specific group.

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The Hindu Urdu Question

Mahatma Gandhi can be especially commended for his efforts towards bridging the Hindi-Urdu rift although he found it already in existence. With the creation of Hindustan, he attempted to incorporate aspects of both Hindu and Urdu in the mainstream Indian society, but he failed miserably. This attempt is known to fuel the separatist policies that engulfed the nation drawing a distinct line between Muslims and Hindus at the time. In regard with the Hindu-Urdu question, Gandhi is widely criticized for enabling a further differentiation between the two languages by trying to bring them together in one language. As people sought autonomy and distinction from the others, they continued to develop their chosen language thus straying further from a united language. This means that the Indian people in general viewed the Hindu Urdu controversy’s escalation in Gandhi’s time as a product of his own miscalculations with the Hindustan creation. While Hindustan became popular in the Hindu speaking parts of the country, it was ignored mostly by the Hindus and Muslims of India as a distraction from their deep seated divisive politics. From the author’s perspective, one might agree here that Gandhi should not have attempted to create a uniform language for these communities. He had already done the damage by allowing political autonomy for the Muslims in India, and his efforts to get them back into the mainstream society were viewed as a feeble attempt to correct his initial grave mistake.

Harold Coward’s book is a great insight into the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi and especially into the direction of his leadership. This man has been lauded for bringing India to independence, and that is the story that is commonly told from generation to generation. However, the truth behind this story seemingly differs from the common perception as he was not always the ideal leader that one may view him to be from the history books. His critics highlight the strengths and the weaknesses of his ideas and actions, especially in seeking to solve the challenges of the Indian people as a whole. In this book, Gandhi registers more failures than successes as is the truth in reality. The reason is that he believed in simplicity and can somehow be considered as a simple-minded man who thought everything could be solved by making personal sacrifices and practicing moralist ideas. In this book, one is able to understand why India did not prosper as much as it could have if the leadership had focused on fostering unity more than in dividing the citizens. It can be appreciated that in contrast to the Gandhi who is discussed in most history classes, Harold Coward’s Gandhi is a phenomenal leader with an equal share of phenomenal critics who elicited the flaws in his mindset and in most cases managed to enlighten the public as to the problems that Gandhi created in India’s future.

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