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Descendants throw new light on Gandhi’s life and death

INDIA: One paints a dispassionate view of the man better known as Mahatma Gandhi, the other stirs controversy about his murder. Both are fuelling renewed interest in the humble father of modern India.

Two newly-released chronicles of Gandhi’s life and death, written by his descendants, have sold more than 10,000 copies each in nearly a month since they were launched. In India, a non-fiction book can become a bestseller with more than 7,000 copies sold.

Publishers said the sales proved Gandhi’s legacy was relevant 59 years after his death and provided evidence of renewed interest that was sparked last year by a blockbuster comedy movie in which the leader plays mentor to gangsters.

“Lage Raho Munnabhai” (Carry on, Munnabhai) played to packed houses for weeks after it was released last September.

“The film struck a popular chord and put much more media focus on Gandhi,” said Thomas Abraham, CEO of Penguin India, publishers of “Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People, and an Empire” by Rajmohan Gandhi.

“Gandhi and his message will always be relevant, and a book on him will always be received with interest,” said Kapish Mehra, who heads Rupa Co., publishers of “Let’s Kill Gandhi!” by Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi.

But it is not just interest that one of the books has generated. Two court cases have been filed against Tushar Gandhi for “insulting a particular community” in a reference to high-caste Brahmin Hindus.

In his book, Tushar Gandhi seeks to demolish some of the theories revolving around Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a right-wing Hindu extremist said to have opposed perceived pampering of Muslims by the leader.

In the process, the leader’s great grandson rakes up a host of contentious claims — chiefly that some Brahmins were against Gandhi’s idea of a casteless society which threatened their sway over India’s ancient hierarchical system.

“Brahmins dominated both the (right-wing outfits) RSS and Hindu Mahasabha and were angry with Gandhi for having started the movement for a classless, casteless Indian society,” the writer says in the book.

Tushar Gandhi also points a finger at India’s historic Congress party — instrumental in the fight against British colonial rule and which is now in power — for not acting on intelligence reports about a threat to Gandhi’s life.

A review by leading Outlook news magazine called some of the claims “sensationalist rather than credible” and “naive rather than new, and emotional”.

But an unfazed Tushar Gandhi said he was glad the book had generated debate.

“I will not react to the police complaints. They can put me in prison. The book needs to be talked about and debated,” he told AFP.

“My objective was not to take revenge, but sound the alarm about the divisive policies that the world is slipping into and which Gandhi was opposed to,” Tushar Gandhi said.

In contrast, the book by grandson Rajmohan Gandhi has generated acclaim for providing an exhaustive account of Gandhi’s life without forsaking objectivity and getting bogged down in too much detail from extensive existing writing.

“The study is a bid to free Gandhi the person from his image or images, and to present his life fully and honestly,” Rajmohan Gandhi says, as he traces Gandhi’s life as a timid youth who would one day shape world history.

The book “Mohandas” — Mahatma Gandhi’s first name — travels with the pacifist leader from India to Britain where he studied, and then to South Africa where he was humiliated by the British, and finally back to India.

In the nearly 700 pages, the author unravels Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — called Mahatama (great soul) out of reverence — as a man, rather than as a world leader.

The biography details Gandhi’s life as the boy who married at 12 but was afraid of ghosts; the youth who took violin and French lessons to indulge an “infatuation” with becoming an English gentleman, and his troubled relationship with his eldest son Harilal, who became an alcoholic.

“Mohandas” also talks about the strong attraction which Gandhi felt for writer Saraladevi Chaudhurani, a niece of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, and which threatened to strain his relations with his family.

New Delhi, Tuesday, AFP


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