Revisiting Gandhi: The forgotten intellectual

Jaithirth Rao, founder and former CEO, Mphasis, on the understudied intellectual” Gandhi, and his enduring relevance as a thinker

PLS 11 March Revisiting Gandhi

We have seen Mahatma Gandhi either as a political figure or as a saintly one. Other aspects of his persona get very little attention from academics. In the political science departments of universities, we sometimes study him as a political strategist. His non-violent movement has inspired practitioners like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Lech Walesa. Both scholars and practitioners focus on his tactics. Occasionally, concessions are made that Gandhi may have been a political philosopher. 

In the process, very little attention has been paid to Gandhi’s contributions in the areas of Economics, Political Economy, and Education. We can make a case that the Mahatma was much more than a politician or a saint. He was in fact a wide-ranging intellectual whose important insights need to be studied as part of humankind’s intellectual legacy. 

In this lecture, we propose to look at the understudied intellectual” Gandhi and to understand his enduring relevance as a thinker. Whenever we look at any philosopher of consequence, we take a look at the tradition that the philosopher sprang from and the influences that mold the resulting philosophical positions.

In the same spirit, this lecture will try to assess the intellectual influences that shaped Gandhi in Political Economy. The attempt is to go beyond the usual references to Ruskin, Thoreau, and Tolstoy and look at other sources that Gandhi consciously or unconsciously relied upon. 

The ultimate aim is to celebrate Gandhi, the intellectual.

About the Speaker

Jaithirth (Jerry) Rao is a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. Rao is an alumnus of Loyola College, Chennai; Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad; and The University of Chicago. He has been the recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award (DAA) from Loyola College, IIM Ahmedabad, and The University of Chicago.

He is the founder and former CEO of the software company Mphasis. He also founded Value and Budget Housing Corporation (VBHC) and Home First Finance Company.

He has authored many books such as Economist Gandhi: The Roots and the Relevance of the Political Economy of the Mahatma, Gemini II, Notes from An Indian Conservative; The Indian Conservative: A History of Indian Right Wing Thought.

He writes columns in publications such as ThePrint, The Indian Express, Swarajya, Seminar, India International Centre Quarterly, Business India, India Today, The Times of India, Economic Times, and Financial Express. Rao has also been published in The Economic and Political Weekly and the Harvard Business History Review.