In his Wall Street Journal review of Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul, a biography of Mohandas Gandhi, conservative historian Andrew Roberts calls Gandhi “a ceaseless self-promoter”, a “sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist” and accuses the revered Indian leader of repeatedly botching his nation’s independence movement. In subsequent paragraphs, Roberts goes on to call him a racist, a child molester, and a hypocrite.
Roberts lambasts Gandhi for sharing his bed with young, naked women into his 70’s, but then directs us to the section of Great Soul that details a passionate love affair between Gandhi and another man, “Yet as Mr. Lelyveld makes abundantly clear, Gandhi’s organ probably only rarely became aroused with his naked young ladies, because the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908.”
Roberts states that of the four great goals of Gandhi’s life, “Hindu-Muslim unity, against importing British textiles, for ending Untouchability and for getting the British off the subcontinent—only the last succeeded, and that simply because the near-bankrupt British led by the anti-imperialist Clement Attlee desperately wanted to leave India anyhow after a debilitating world war.”
He believes that historians have largely given Gandhi a pass for these alleged failings, and that “Mr. Lelyveld is not immune, making labored excuses for him at every turn of this nonetheless well-researched and well-written book.” It’s unclear in the end whether Roberts’s objections to Gandhi and his legacy are ultimately politically based in a reaction to Gandhi’s social and historical orientation or based in a puritanical reaction to Gandhi’s sexual orientation.