Gandhi, utopianism and the construction of colonial difference

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This article explores the dynamics of Gandhi's political emergence at the head of the Indian nationalist movement in 1919 and argues that the form of his ideology had a decisive impact in transforming the political field in India from an elite-based constitutional politics to a field of mass political participation. It argues that utopianism enabled Gandhian discourse to resolve the ideological crisis in which Indian nationalism had found itself at the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century. Tracing the lineages of this ideological dilemma, the article then argues that utopianism permitted Gandhi to articulate a sense of cultural difference from the colonial Other based on a rejection of the modernity associated with it, while simultaneously occluding Gandhi's own modernism which he used as the basis for his programme of social reform. Examining Gandhi's seminal work Hind Swaraj, the article analyses the rhetorical strategies employed by Gandhi in order to open up this space of symbolic difference. These strategies articulated a political discourse which sought to reconcile differences within Indian society in order to project a unified difference against the colonial power. As such, it enabled a politics at once more radical than Indian nationalism had hitherto been without alienating the groups which had felt threatened by earlier periods of political 'extremism'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-438
Number of pages20
JournalInterventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2001


  • Gandhi
  • identity
  • nationalism
  • symbolic discourse
  • utopianism

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