Gandhi as an Icon: A Study in Context of Public Rhetoric

Munira Lokhandwala


Language influences people, people influence language. It is argued by some that culture is ‘reconstituted through language’ Language is socially constructed, and depends on the meanings people attach to it. Because language is not rigid and changes depending on the situation, the very usage of language is rhetorical. Public rhetoric refers to discourse both within a group of people and between groups, often centering on the process by which individual or group discourse seeks membership in the larger public discourse. Public rhetoric can also involve rhetoric being used within the general populace to foster social change and encourage agency on behalf of the participants of public rhetoric.
As a segment of society, images can also function in the realm of public rhetoric as photographs. Photographic images recreated as such are extremely important and function as icons. As a version of public rhetoric, iconic images serve to compose meaning and persuade an audience to respond in some way.
India’s association with the greatest freedom fighter in the 21st century, continued even after the death of Gandhi in 1948. Gandhi is seen on currency notes, in government offices in framed pictures, as statues in public places like streets and gardens, in museums, in tourist memorabilia. The list goes on. The question often arises as to the phenomenon of the emergence of Gandhi as an icon not just at the national level but also international.
This paper will examine the various iconic images of Gandhi that influenced the society at the time and is etched in public memory as a social rhetoric. The richness of the Gandhi icons become highly marked for their public rhetoric. The icon of Gandhi sitting at the spinning wheel is a case in point. This paper will explore the conventional icons that Gandhi is traditionally associated with as well as the emerging modern ones. The paper will try to examine the social change that was brought about by the emergence of Gandhi as an Iconic leader.

Keywords: Discourse, Icon, Photographic Images, Rhetoric, Social change

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