There are few, I think, who would dispute that Mahatma Gandhi deserves to be considered one of the great heroes of the twentieth century — if not, indeed, the greatest person this century has produced. His message of nonviolence and unfathomable restraint shamed the British and served as an example, not just for his countrymen, but for us all. But let us now consider what it would take for us to reexamine his legacy. Clearly, murder or arson would put him right over the line. But let’s start small: Were we to learn that he was a lousy tipper, he’d probably still be okay. Rude to his staff? Still okay — he was a busy man, had a lot of stress in his life, was hungry. It happens. Cursed like a sailor? Damaging, but still not fatal — could be interpreted as colorful. Here, I think, is the dividing line — everything below it, he’s still a hero; everything above it, he doesn’t make the TIME 100: What if it were discovered that he often, in conversation, would refer to the necessity of “managing” the Gandhi “brand”, “leveraging” its “equity” through a series of corporate sponsorships and joint ventures? Or perhaps worse, that he underwent radical plastic surgery, resurfaced in the United States, and toured as a popular singer named Ike Turner?
July 16, 1999
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