Gandhi and the Hazards of Action: The Lessons of Chauri Chaura
Gandhi’s suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement, after the outbreak of violence at Chauri Chaura, was a defining moment of Gandhi’s political career; no other decision has been so roundly condemned or misunderstood. Chauri Chaura, and the experience of the first experiments in mass satyagraha, mark a pivotal moment in Gandhi’s understanding of and critique of political violence and the forms of nonviolent action that could answer and mitigate it. It led him to expand the concerns already voiced in Hind Swaraj about the futility of violence towards a more sustained engagement with the hazards and possibilities of political action. This paper analyzes the lessons of Chauri Chaura for Gandhi’s account of political action, of what political action entails, and what it requires if it is to be effective and, at the same time, avoid the descent into violence.
Karuna Mantena is Associate Professor of Political Science at Yale University. She holds a BSc(Econ) in International Relations from the London School of Economics (1995), an MA in Ideology and Discourse Analysis from the University of Essex (1996), and a PhD in Government from Harvard University (2004). Her research interests include modern social and political thought, the theory and history of empire, and South Asian politics and history. Her first book, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (2010), analyzed the transformation of nineteenth-century British imperial ideology. Her current work focuses on political realism and the political thought of M.K. Gandhi.
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