Bengaluru: “Gandhi was the most non-parochial Indian ever lived,” said Dr Ramachandra Guha at the launch of his book Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World.
It is a sequel to Dr Guha's earlier book, Gandhi Before India and deals with the insightful life of Mahatma Gandhi from 1914-1948.
Dr Guha said while the prequel dealt with inner Gandhi and his struggle in South Africa, the current book talks about him being an international figure.
“Gandhi was more than a freedom fighter. He was a social reformer and pluralistic. Gandhi had a profound distaste for popular passions such as cinema and sport. He only watched one movie in his life,” he added.
Dr Guha says the shadow of Mahatma stalked him even in the most unexpected places. “When I wrote a book on cricket, there are forty references to Gandhi. Even though he knew nothing of cricket, football, hockey etc, he influenced how cricket was watched, played and talked about in the decades between the wars,” he explained.
The book deals with Mahatma's relations with his wife. The author points out that Gandhi was an indifferent husband and as a father he was disastrous. The book also pays respect to a dozen of people who worked with him, including Mahadev Desai, his secretary and constant companion. Desai stayed with Gandhi and died in 1942 at Aga Khan prison.
The author talks about the meeting of Winston Churchill with Mahatma in 1906 and how the former's visceral hatred for Gandhi helped him revive his political career.
“Churchill, when out of power in 1930's used Gandhi to revive his political career. He even wrote to the Viceroy that Gandhi was a Japanese agent and intelligence should be put to find out. All the intelligence was able to find out was the meeting of two Japanese monks with Gandhi,” he concluded.
Q&A with Ramachandra Guha
Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World chronicles how an ordinary Gujarati Indian lawyer went on to become a ‘Mahatma’, as he is now fondly remembered.
What interests you so much about Gandhi that you have written two books on him?
My first childhood experience with the great man was when my parents forced me to wear a sacred thread and I had read somewhere that Gandhi threw away sacred thread. So my first argument was that since Gandhi did not wear the thread, why should I. Later I came across extraordinary Gandhians which made me read further about the great man.
Leaders of that era were pitted against Gandhi so that his contribution could be delegitimized. There is also a hype regarding Naval mutiny. How would you respond to it?
Naval mutiny is overrated. In fact, the British were going when the Labour Party came to power. There are several ways of legitimising Gandhi. For me, he was prophetic in his view that violence begets violence. There were different dimensions about Gandhi. He was more than a freedom fighter. In India, the image of someone with a gun seems to be macho. One cannot put Ambedkar versus Gandhi or for that matter any other leader against him since they all had a different approach to reach towards a common goal.
What were the sources you have used to write such a comprehensive book and how is it different from the 90 volumes of the Gandhi's Collected Works?
In Collected Works, one will get to see letters by Gandhi, but not letters written to Gandhi. So I have used that as my source. In fact, I am the first biographers of Gandhi to have gone through the Mahatma's personal collection of the newspapers. Newspapers are one of the most important sources. The report on 'Dandi March' in Gujarati newspapers gives a fair idea of the people who were with him etc. The book even talks about Gandhiji's campaigns including the campaign against untouchability in 1933 and 1934. It was a slow campaign. Here he was challenged by radical Hindus along with Ambedkar who wanted him to move fast on the issue.
Professor K. Swaminathan along with C. Patel did a great job from 1961 to 1994 of collecting 90 volumes on Gandhi. Many are so exhausted by the Collected Works that they do not go beyond it....