Understanding Mahatma Gandhi posed problems to many

April 6th, 2011 - 4:37 pm ICT by ANI  

By I. Ramamohan Rao New Delhi, Apr. 6 (ANI): The controversy over the book written by Joseph Lelyveld on Mahatma Gandhi is not something new.

The following extract recalls how a review of the Collected Works by a noted Gandhian scholar, raised many eyebrows during the Janata Government in the seventies

In 1977, I was appointed the chief editor of the Indian and Foreign Review (IFR), a fortnightly journal brought out by the Publications Division for distribution by the External Publicity Division of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Printed on rice paper - thin white paper - it was patterned to resemble the New Statesman. A current affairs journal, it contained an analysis of major political and economic developments in India. Besides notes and comments, it contained articles by leading journalists, news analysts and academicians. The journal used to be airlifted to different countries. On its mailing list were foreign missions, universities and libraries in various countries, particularly in the English-speaking world.

I used to approach Professor K. Swaminathan, the Chief Editor of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, for contributions in issues published in January and October. Once, when I approached him, he said he was pressed for time, and suggested that I publish a review of the latest volumes of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi - Volumes 67 to 70 - which had just been published.

The Collected Works contained all available writings, letters and speeches of Gandhiji. I took the volumes to T.K. Mahadevan, an eminent scholar, who specialised in Gandhian literature. He was generally available at the Gandhi Museum at Rajghat.Mahadevan agreed to review the volumes on one condition - that I will not change the editorial content. As promised, he gave me the reviews well in time to meet the deadline, but the content was not what I had visualized. In the review article entitled “Mahatma Gandhi’s Walking Sticks - Much Ado About Nothing” Mahadevan dwelt at length on Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with Brahmacharya or celibacy.

The article said: “The line that divides genius from insanity and spiritual power from carnality is proverbially as thin as a wafer. A little jolt and one plummets from the pinnacle down to the valley below.”

Mahadevan tried to piece together what he describes Gandhi’s “interior landscape”.

Mahadevan narrated: “It all happened on 14 April, 1938. Whether during the day or at night, it is not clear; but Gandhi was ‘fully awake’ when he had, presumably an involuntary, discharge of semen”According to the chronology in the volume, he had left Calcutta for Delhi the previous night, evidently by the Kalka Mail. That would point to his having spent the daytime in the train, and the likelihood is that the emission took place while travelling. ……the seminal discharge, may have been nothing more than nature’s self-protective mechanism at work, procuring a much needed psychosomatic relaxation. But Gandhi saw in it a failure of his brahmacharya! Writing to Mirabehn, a fortnight later, here is how he put it: ‘That degrading dirty, torturing experience shook me to bits and made me feel as if I was hurled by God from an imaginary paradise where I had no right to be in my uncleanliness.” Gandhi said: “Where am I, where is my place and how can a person subject to passion represent non-violence and truth?”

Mahadevan continued: “Gandhi appears to have discussed his so-called moral lapse with several of his colleagues, for we find him weighing the relative merits of the nostrums that had been proffered to him. Eventually, they all seemed to converge on his ‘walking sticks’ - that is, his habit of walking flanked by a woman (generally an inmate of his ashram) on either side, with his hands resting on their shoulder.”The review recalled how Gandhi did not give up the practice when two co-workers who came to Wardha suggested that it was likely to set a bad example to others. Undeterred the ashramites later brought to his notice the case of a university student who “was taking all sorts of liberties in private with a girl who was under his influence, on the plea that he loved her like his own sister and could not restrain himself from some physical demonstration of it”. Gandhi then said: “The discovery set me thinking…The self-introspection induced by the event resulted in the renunciation of the practice.” That was how Gandhi gave up the habit of using “walking sticks”

In 1978, we were working in the glow of post-emergency ‘freedom’. I was rudely shaken when the Director of the Publications Division, who published the journal, asked me for an explanation as to why I published the article, which he said was critical of Gandhi. I sent a factual note and mentioned that I could not ‘censor’ the article as it was based on facts, and quotations from Mahatma Gandhi’s own letters, as published in the Collected Works.

Some colleagues told me to count my days in the IFR, as the Indian and Foreign Review was referred to. The Indian and Foreign Review was published by the Publications Division, a media unit of the Information Ministry, for the Ministry of External Affairs. L.K. Advani headed the Information Ministry and Atal Behari Vajpayee was the External Affairs Minister. My note travelled through them to the office of then Prime Minister Morarji Desai.I was told that the matter was serious as L.K. Advani had sent the file to the Prime Minister. A month or so later, I was told that the file containing the article and my explanation had come back to the Information Ministry from the Prime Minister’s Office with the remark from him that “The editor of the Foreign Review has not committed any wrong”. My stock went up as an able editor, but my boss called me and said: “You have been lucky. Be careful. Do not take such risks.”Later, a scholar who undertook a study of Mahatma Gandhi, told me that he had an idea of the identity of the two ashramites who had articulated that Mahatma Gandhi should give up the habit of walking in the ashram with two young girls as support. One of them, he disclosed, was rumoured to be Morarji Desai! Looking back, I survived, because the truth was on my side. (ANI)

Attn: News Editors/News Desks: Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer to the Government of India. This is an extract from his forthcoming book that revisits his years as a government communicator.

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