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Gandhi Biography Causes Furor In India

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Gandhi Biography Causes Furor In India


Gandhi Biography Causes Furor In India

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

A new book on Mohandas Gandhi, wildly revered as the father of independent India, has sparked a furor in that country. It's prompted at least one Indian state to propose banning it.

The book itself hasn't even been released in India yet, but politicians are reacting to a book review that highlighted passages suggesting Gandhi may have been bisexual.

That was too much for many who venerate Gandhi as the Mahatma, who pioneered nonviolent protest and led India to independence.

Still, NPR's Corey Flintoff reports that the proposed ban has prompted many people to defend the author's right to publish.

COREY FLINTOFF: This is Vijay Jolly, spokesman for India's main opposition party, the BJP - or Bharatiya Janata Party - in New Delhi.

Mr. VIJAY JOLLY (Vice President, Bharatiya Janata Party): If even a passing reference casts any aspirations on Mahatma's great personality and persona, then certainly, we have a right to demand a review or a ban on the book.

FLINTOFF: The BJP has proposed banning "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India," by Joseph Lelyveld.

The passages to which Jolly objects come from letters written by Gandhi to Hermann Kallenbach, with whom Gandhi lived in South Africa before the First World War.

Mr. JOLLY: Now, even a passing reference that Mahatma left his wife to live with a so-called German Jew bodybuilder, which we consider to be derogatory in nature.

FLINTOFF: Lelyveld does quote Gandhi's letters to Kallenbach, which he says are full of strong expressions of love.

Mr. JOSEPH LELYVELD (Author, "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India"): If you think love has to be sexual, love between two men can only exist if it's sexual, then I guess this was sexual. But if you - as the book says, if you look at what the two men actually said, and at their efforts in their time together to repress any hint of sexual urges, I think you'll find that at least I don't suggest that it was bisexual.

FLINTOFF: Lelyveld is a former executive editor at the New York Times and Pulitzer Prize winner, who worked as a correspondent in India and South Africa.

Lelyveld says the controversy in India was stoked by a review of the book by historian Andrew Roberts.

Mr. LELYVELD: The word got into play, I think, because of the coverage in a Wall Street Journal review that basically trashed Gandhi. Didn't particularly trash my book, but used some of the material in the book to trash Gandhi. I think he used the term sexual weirdo.

FLINTOFF: Many people have come forward to defend Lelyveld's right to publish. Tushar Gandhi, the Mahatma's great-grandson, says the family opposes any effort to restrict freedom of opinion because Gandhi stood for freedom.

Mr. TUSHAR GANDHI (Managing Trustee, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation): Then on the pretext of protecting his honor, if these kind of draconian, antidemocratic measures are taken, they must be condemned and opposed.

FLINTOFF: Tushar Gandhi also says that whatever his great-grandfather's sexuality may have been, it has nothing to do with his place in Indian history.

At least one other state government controlled by the BJP, the western state of Gujarat, has already said it will ban the book if it's released in India. Another state, Maharashtra, whose capital is Mumbai, has said it's considering a ban.

Lelyveld says his publisher in India is going ahead with plans to publish the book, and that the controversy hasn't hurt sales one bit.

Readers in India are already ordering "Great Soul" on the Internet, and Amazon says India accounts for 33 percent of its foreign sales.

Gandhi himself might have laughed at the fuss. An editorial in The Hindu newspaper quoted a famous remark of the Mahatma to his followers: I am of the earth, earthy. I'm prone to as many weaknesses as you are.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New Delhi.

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