Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy
It is by now clear that the rhetoric and practice of democracy in the Global South has irreversibly transformed the European meanings of the concept. Crucial to this transformation has been the persistence of religion in nineteenth and twentieth century anticolonial struggles. But what does “religion” in the singular stand for in these diverse and divisive contexts? What sort of relationships did anticolonial mobilizations for sovereignty forge between faith and justice, sacrifice and autonomy, theology and resistance? B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of India's constitution, and M.K. Gandhi, the Indian nationalist, two figures whose thought and practices have most decisively shaped the relationship between religion and politics in India, are typically considered antagonists who held irreconcilable views on empire, freedom, and morality. This book reassesses their complex relationship, focusing on their commitment to an unconditional equality, which for them remained inseparable from the anticolonial struggles for sovereignty. Ambedkar and Gandhi inherited the concept of equality from modern humanism, but their ideas marked a distinctive turn in humanist conceptions of duty and rights, means and ends. Kumar recovers the philosophical foundations of their thought in Indian and Western traditions, religious and secular alike. Attending to moments of difficulty in their theories of justice and ethics of resistance, he probes the nature of risk that radical democracy’s desire for inclusion forces open within the modern (nationalist) traditions. In excavating their intellectual kinship (and abyssal difference), Radical Equality allows Ambedkar and Gandhi to shed light on each other, even as it places them within a global constellation of moral and political visions. The story of their struggle against inequality and violence thus transcends national boundaries and unfolds within a new universalism of citizenship and dissidence. At the heart of this unfolding, Kumar argues, is another thinking of force, that classical concept rooted at once in political realism and mystical theology, marked at once by its fierce potentiality and insurrectionary emptiness, of which Ambedkar and Gandhi emerge as exemplary theorists and rhetoricians.