From Moment to Eternity: The Rebirth of Gandhi


  • Sumit Mukerji


It is said that Mohandas Karamchand  Gandhi was born in India and reborn in South Africa. Going a step further, Gandhi himself testified that “I was born in India but was made in South Africa”. On the fateful night of June 7, 1893 Gandhi was thrown out of a railway compartment at Pietermaritzburg station, South Africa, despite having a valid first-class ticket on his way to Pretoria. The event did not hit the headlines nor was it reported in newspapers, but it was the catalyst of a revolution in the life of the victim and also the world in general and his motherland in particular. That night witnessed the rebirth of Gandhi, who was later acclaimed as Mahatma Gandhi and the birth of the ideal of Satyagraha which inspired the struggle of Indian natives against apartheid in South Africa, India’s national movement against British imperialism and peace movements the world over. The ephemeral became eternal. The present paper examines the defining moment in the life of Gandhi which ignited the spark of an inner psychic revolution in him and transformed him from an unimpressive and diffident barrister into a transformative leader inspiring men and movements the world over. A local event thus became a global beacon light. The paper intends to explicate the ramifications of the momentous moment within the methodological perspective of the concept of Contingency in politics which postulates that Politics is based on contingencies of time and space. Contingencies are based on uncertainties which are both foreseeable and unforeseeable, knowable and unknowable. The present paper contends that singular, rare and unanticipated events shape the making and remaking of personality. What appears to be a non-event transcends its status as an event and attains eternity. Providing a counter point to Gregory. A. Huber’s view that Political Science should focus on foreseeable contingencies (Huber, 2007), the paper contends that to internalize contingencies, the study of the unexpected and the accidental should be the focal point. Unforeseeable  events are  rare  and  unique,  but  they  help  to  understand  how climacteric moments in the life of an individual also become momentous for the world at large.  Andreas Schedler highlights a research gap saying that Political Science, seeking to uncover regularities of political life, has paid scarce attention to its contingency with its multiple locations. Its tenets are indeterminacy envisaging possible but unpredictable worlds, conditionality that is causal justifications and uncertainty that is open future. The present paper posits that this research gap is discernible in Gandhian studies as no attempt has been made to treat the micro event at the macro level and delineate its significance in the greater arena. As Ian Shapiro and Sonu Bedi say that the concept of Contingency is a great challenge to Political Science confronting it with the dilemma whether to embrace certainty or uncertainty about political outcomes (Shapiro and Bedi, 2009). The paper concludes that contingencies should not be treated as exogenous and though they are unpredictable, they have the added advantage of demonstrating how in particular cases, events become causes. Unilinear focus on certainty and predictability woul d preclude the analysis of fascinating events where consequences of the moment become causes of greater moments in future. The primary objective of the paper is to show how the moment of humiliation proved to be a blessing in disguise for Gandhi and how the waiting room in the station where he shivered throughout the night, attained eternity and immortality. Secondly, it tries to show how the contingency which was unpredictable and unforeseen, ensured Gandhi a permanent place in the history of the world. Thirdly, the paper emphasizes that singular events involve both objective and subjective factors. Psychic and catalytic moments are not always amenable to objective analysis. Moreover, unforeseen contingency helps to distinguish extraordinary events from ordinary ones. Certainty and predictability are not applicable to events of exceptional importance. The paper thus articulates the counter conviction that Gandhi’s emergence as a global leader is best understood within the conceptual framework of Unforeseen Contingency.


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