Ban on the Gandhi biography in Gujarat

The chief minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi, is a hero of mine. That does not mean that I approve of every position he holds. In the case of the banning of Joseph Lelyveld’s book, “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India,” I most certainly do not agree with Narendrabhai. What is more, I will not hesitate to tell him so. I am a free speech fundamentalist. Banning expression is the start of a journey the destination of which is something akin to an Islamic state which orders the murder of novelists and cartoonists.

Listen: Joseph Lelyveld talking about his book on KQED Forum.

Author: Atanu Dey


20 thoughts on “Ban on the Gandhi biography in Gujarat”

  1. Atanu,

    Narendra Modi’s image is that of a Hindu fundamentalist. (I can’t say that he is one, because I don’t know so) There is no doubting his administrative prowess, though he has been known to run his show with an iron fist. My worry is that having a religious fundamentalist of any kind at the top is dangerous. Which is what makes me wonder sometimes which of the two, BJP or Congress, are lesser of the two evils?
    As far as guaranteeing basic human freedoms is concerned, probably both have an equally bad track record.

    I quite admire Modi’s straightforward manner of speaking, unlike the mealymouthed MMS. I guess we have to live with the few flaws that our heroes might have, maybe it’s a compromise for something better in return?


    1. Dhruv,

      Regarding Narendrabhai being a Hindu fundamentalist, I have two points. First, he is not a religious fanatic, if that is what is meant by a fundamentalist. He’s a Hindu alright but he really could not care less which fairy tale floats your boat. His concern is development and he really has no quarrel with people’s belief systems. When a journalist had asked him what had he done for the Muslims in Gujarat, he said, “Nothing.” Then he told the journalist that he had not done anything for Hindus in Gujarat either. He made it clear that he worked for the people of Gujarat, not for this or that particular religious segment.

      Second, I would like to explore what the word “fundamentalist” means in the context of religion. Consider a Buddhist fundamentalist and compare him to an Islamic fundamentalist. Do you see that being a fundamentalist is not necessarily bad for the people around? The fundamentals of Buddhism say that one should avoid harming any sentient being, that one should work towards enlightenment, seek freedom from samsara and attain nirvana (extinguish the root cause of existentialist suffering), etc. The fundamentals of Buddhism are benign and welfare improving. The fundamentals of Islam, in contrast, is about obedience to the commands of a moon god who demands that the entire world be converted to worship him, and if people refuse, to kill them.

      Would you like to live in a society where the majority are Islamic fundamentalists or would you like to live in a society where the majority are Buddhist fundamentalist?

      The two religions are not only different but one is absolutely better than the other. I would any day take my chances with a Buddhist fundamentalist rather than an observant Muslim. (Many people do call themselves Muslims but choose to disregard much of what Islam dictates. Same goes for most Christians. As Nietzsche said, “It is not their love for us but their lack of faith that prevents today’s Christians from burning us.”)

      Bottom line: there’s nothing wrong with the fundamentals of Hinduism and therefore I don’t see how being a Hindu fundamentalist is a bad thing.


  2. Gandhi was a man of principles and great courage. Quite rare and admirable qualities. But he was not perfect. And as kids we are brain-washed to believe that he was perfect. The ideas get rooted so deeply into our minds that it is almost a sin to think otherwise.

    I don’t think any political leader in India whatever beliefs he holds, can dare to alienate the whole nation by allowing such inappropriate content (inappropriate to the average Indian mindset) about Gandhi to openly circulate. Narendra Modi is no exception.


  3. Modi’s government demolished several temples that were encroaching the roads in Gandhinagar. How can he be a religious fundamentalist if he is ordering to do this. Remember, allowing this temples to flourish is actually good politics. Yet going against cheap ways to get voter attention, he ordered the demolitions in order to achieve greater efficiency.

    As far as book banning is concerned, I think they are doing it because it is a popular thing to do (good politics) yet does not affect business in any way except miniscule effect to sales tax receipts. They (Narendra Modi and his team) are politicians after all.


  4. Seriously, Atanu. Let’s not make a hero of a person of very modestly endowed intellectual calibre, modest administrative competence (which he has), and no idea whatsoever about what ails India and how to resolve its problems.

    He has acted true to form – being TOTALLY CONFUSED – in this case. Let’s please raise our standards of ‘hero worship’. I expect more – much more – from you.

    A true hero is Bant Singh ( Let’s help him reform the dastardly caste system of India. This man Modi will actually be one of the first to support the caste system being a radical Hindutva fundamentalist. There are people who matter in making a nation great and those who don’t. And Modi doesn’t.

    I haven’t seen you talk much about FTI’s leaders yet. Actually THEY are the true heroes of India: willing to rise and fight against the gross incompetence and intellectual confusion seen in India. Please, as a speakers’ panelist of FTI, do talk about FTI sometimes, as well.



  5. having followed modi for a while, I wont be surprised if this was a tactical move. I don’t think he cares for gandi all that much.. he just goes pre-emptive on nuisance called ndtv.


  6. Somewhat off topic – but speaking of freedom of expression and speech, it will be interesting to know your views on the actions of Terry Jones – the Quoran burning episode and the number of deaths it has led to. Don’t you think such people should be restrained in some way given that their actions are leading to death and violence, although in an indirect manner ( and they obviously know what kind of reactions to expect ).


  7. Dear Atanu,

    On a lighter note, this ban could be a calculated move to publicize the contents of the book. What say?



  8. Modi certainly stands for development and firmness like no other leader in the country. But this book banning business he does seems ridiculous. He previously banned the famous Jinah book by Jaswant Singh citing ridiculous reasons.

    He did it provide political cover to Advani previously and not probably he is doing it to show people that he has love for Gandhi. I might be wrong but I feel at time he overdoes it. Modi will lose his fans if he continues to do such things.


  9. Hi Atanu,

    There is no doubt Modi has proved himself far more capable leader in administering his state compared to others . But you have sort of put him on a pedestal which I find disconcerting. When you talk about Modi ,it’s as if he’s committed no wrong. All his other crimes are sort of brushed under the carpet..How can you justify his abdication of responsibility during the post Godhra violence. He did not have a direct hand in killing Muslims, but his prejudices definitely came in the way of innocent lives from getting killed. He along with other BJP leaders explained it away as a “natural” venting up of frustration of the people..There was nothing natural about it. Rape, pillage,murder,burning of homes, ripping out a fetus..Even now when there is some justice and closure for families of those who were killed in that fire, there is no justice or closure for the 1000’s killed after..Why doesn’t Modi try to bring those people to justice ? Because he doesn’t care, to him those lives were worthless..

    I believe your prejudices are also coming in the way of seeing him for what he is..A divisive/dividing figure not good for the long term rapprochement of people in Gujarat and definitely not someone to be thrust on to or emulated on the national arena.


  10. This needed to be said, and glad that you said it. I wasn’t even knowing that Modi had got the book banned. Though, I was anticipating the same. Even politically speaking, I don’t think that is a wise decision. He perhaps overestimates Gujarati people’s love for Gandhi. But what a political non-entity like me is supposed to say in such matters? 😀

    I am tempted to agree with Ramaswamy above. 😉


  11. Zenil and other ppl who may have bought into Modi mass murder blahblah

    Plz educate yourself.

    NM is a politician. Above all things, politicians need to win votes.
    And like it or not people still respect Gandhi and books can be banned by law -> leading to the obvious result. I don’t like it. But plz don’t whine if you have no intention of winning an election and changing the law or filing a court case to challenge the book or whatever.

    Most citywallahs ( internet commenters ) have no idea how villagers ( = voting population ) think. You really need to talk to some of them to understand it. They have a extremely limited scope of vision, such as price of vegetables and petrol, why is the govt not digging a borewell on my jaydaad, I want free power etc. Try explaining India’s nuclear reactor program to them and you are assured to get blank stares and looks of incredulity/disgust that govt is wasting money on that rather than bringing down prices or digging borewells.

    Politicians understand these people. That’s why they keep getting elected. We are fortunate enough to have a politician in Narendra Modi who understands development and technological progress rather than using their position to loot the country. If it is politically advantageous for NM to ban the book that I really could not care less. Then again , internet commenting non-voters are very badly equipped to understand politics.


  12. @Sanjeev
    “This man Modi will actually be one of the first to support the caste system being a radical Hindutva fundamentalist.”

    Could you please elaborate more on how “radical hindutva”(whatever that means) supports the “caste system”, or more specifically caste based discrimination? And since we are talking about fundamentalism, you may also want to cite a few quotations from proponents/ideologues of Hindutva like Savarkar, Golwalkar, Hedgewar etc. supporting caste based discrimination. Please educate us.


  13. A Thief will even invoke the Bible to justify his theft, when caught.

    Atanu is doing just that. Narendra Modi is under investigation by no less than Supreme Court for being involved in riots, and here we have clever arguments in his favor.

    Lets see the same venom that author of this blog spits at others towards his hero. But, no, there is no venom, but only trick arguments.

    Why so much hatred towards others?


    1. Oldtimer,

      I am envious, Atanu. How do you manage to get the pup snap furiously at your heels like that, demanding attention?

      You have to get up pretty early in the morning, actually 🙂


  14. Atanu

    Read the book. It’s very illuminating. He systematically peel aside the saint myth. The sexual stuff is actually a small side story. The bigger story is about his machiavellian genius in getting his way.


    1. a,

      I am sure that in this day and age, myths will be harder to maintain. Satyam eva jayate. The time is at hand when we will finally see that indeed truth alone prevails.


  15. @Atanu:
    “I most certainly do not agree with Narendrabhai. What is more, I will not hesitate to tell him so.”

    While you’re at it, please also ask him to change his stance on FDI in retail.


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