A recent book on Mahatma Gandhi by Joseph Lelyeld has created a furor in India. To correct myself, it is a review of the said book which has created a furor as the book has not been read as yet. The error of understanding is on the part of the reviewer or the author, is yet to be ascertained, but the ‘guardians’ of Gandhi have taken upon themselves to ban the book already. India has a rich tradition of banning books without reading them – a rare distinction in a democracy!
A person of Gandhi’s eminence who was a champion of democracy and a person who had opened his own life to scrutiny by writing his brutally frank autobiography – does he need modern day guardians to protect him or his legacy? Who has given our politicians the right to ban a book which they have not even seen, forget read? Is this being fair to Gandhi who would have called for a debate, rather than take such a derogatory step? Are the people who are turning into his guardians, even eligible to lay a claim on his name or is regional association a good enough cause for ‘owning’ Gandhi?
Having taken it on them to guard Gandhi, I want to ask, does someone like Gandhi, need mortal aid? Is his legacy so flippant, that he needs some botched hands to guard him? Can his contribution not overshadow a few grey shades of humanity in him? Has there been any human being who is not a combination of both good and not-so-good qualities? Can anybody identify absolute goodness in any individual? And if yes, who defines such goodness?
There are many references in mythology, where we have treated our heroes in a similar manner. Bhishma from the epic Mahabharata is known for his great sacrifice as well as his contribution to the Kuru family, but we don’t forget to accuse him of his silence during Draupadi’s disrobing. Ram in Ramayana, known for his selflessness, bravery and his ability to mobilize support, is also remembered for his single act of banning Sita in his later life. Same with Krishna, the orator of Gita, a treatise of righteous path and Dharma, is nonetheless referred to as a ‘politician’ for certain acts or decisions taken by him during the war of Kurukshetra in Mahabharata.
Despite the singular acts of omission or commission by such mythological heroes, their contributions have not overshadowed their personalities. I would think that the same is applicable to a personality like Gandhi. The overall contributions have been assimilated, but errors (a debatable term) are being gloated upon. When we look at today’s politicians promoting their children, we accuse them of nepotism. When we read about Gandhi not championing the cause of his son, we call him a bad-father (and we also call him the father of our nation!). If this is not our inherent double-standards, then what is this?
Finally, I am a staunch critic of banning books, no matter what it says. Besides giving the book an avoidable publicity, banning also demeans the personality or the religion it allegedly defames. Democracy demands debate and advocates choice. As a responsible citizen, I must be given a choice to decide what I read and what I don’t.
Illiterates should not take this decision for me.