Will the real Gandhian organisations take a stand please?

Funded from taxpayers’ money, they have zero contribution in current Gandhi debate

danish

Danish Raza | April 1, 2011


`My life is my message,` he said.
`My life is my message,` he said.

A plethora of organisations and institutions, funded by taxpayers, exist to keep the Gandhi legacy alive, but as yet another controversy on precisely this legacy is making headlines.

Just where have all those Gandhian organisations gone when you need them?

There are a number of such institutions receiving funds from the state for the express purpose of furthering Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy alive. They, however, lead quiet lives away from the public sphere and do little to justify their existence. However, now that a debate is raging – on Joseph Lelyveld’s biography ‘Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India’ and the ban on it, these august institutions could have stood up and taken a stand. They have not.

The Gujarat government has banned the latest Gandhi biography, the Maharashtra government is in the process of doing so, and the central government not only plans to ban the book (yet to be released in India) but also make insult to Gandhi a crime.

That sounds fair enough. However, given the fact that the controversial insinuations (that Gandhi was bisexual and racist) come from a review of the book and not the book itself and the author has clarified his position, the book ban is misplaced.

Moreover, even if the book itself were to make such allegations, it should not have been banned for Gandhi himself revered truth and preferred transparency. Any ban, even of a slanderous book, reeks of ‘thought control’ and lack of confidence to counter it with rational debate.

That is why several members of the Gandhi family have opposed the ban: Rajmohan Gnadhi and Gopalkrishna Gandhi have argued eloquently against it and Tushar Gandhi says he plans to appeal in court against it.

And yet, none of the state institutions ostensibly working for the Gandhian cause has spoken out – not even in the favour of the ban, which too would be a stand all the same. If they do not even have a view on a crucial issue like the ban on a Gandhi biography (or baseless allegations against him, depending on one’s viewpoint), if they do not have a contribution to the government policy on this matter, it would be better not to fund them and save money.

When Governance Now contacted heads of some of these organisations, they reiterated their stance – of not taking one. Dr Mani Mala, director of the Delhi-based Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, refused to comment on the controversy. “No comments” is all she told us.

No office-bearer at the Khadi and Village Industries and the Ahmedabad-based Gujarat Vidyapith were immediately available for comment.

Then there is the Navjivan Trust, the publication house founded by Gandhi and which held copyrights to the Mahatma’s works. Unfortunately, its chairperson Jitendra Desai passed away last month and the organisation is headless for the moment.

“The trust is yet to find a replacement for the chairperson who expired some days back. There is nobody at present to speak on behalf of the trust,” a Navjivan representative said on telephone from Ahmedabad.

The Delhi-based Gandhi Peace Foundation (not a state institution), however, has a clear view on the issue. “The ban on the book in Gujarat was uncalled for. Gandhi was open about his life and never professed censorship. But then this is the irony of our country,” said Anupam Mishra, a founding member of the foundation.

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