‘Bisexual’ Gandhi, bachelor Modi & ‘author’ Moily

VINUTHA MALLYA writes from Ahmedabad: The ban masters are back in business. And as usual, vibrant Gujarat leads the way, but this time the Centre is not too far behind.

Narendra Damodardas Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and renowned terminator of artistic freedom, has just announced the State’s “ban” on the book, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India by Pulitzer-winner and former New York Times journalist, Joseph Lelyveld.

The book’s sin: to have elicited reviews that hinted at the Mahatma’s bisexuality, despite the author’s denial of it.

Modi won the dash to the ban on Wednesday after Union law minister (and alleged author), M. Veerappa Moily, had announced in Poona earlier in the day that the Centre too was considering proscribing the book.

As the man in charge Gandhi’s homestate, “hands-on” Modi obviously couldn’t let somebody else be seen to be protecting its asmita before him. (For the record, the Congress government in Shiv Sena land, Maharashtra, too has announced a ban.)

None of the crusaders of Gandhi’s reputation have thought it worthy to read the book before publicly denouncing its content and conclusions:

“We have to think how to prevent such writings. They denigrate not only a national leader but also the nation,” said Moily.

Anyone remember Article 19? Anyone remember that Moily is both a lawyer and an author.

Modi, an old hand at ban baaja, has used this strategy in the past to his advantage: Jaswant Singh’s book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and his support in the unofficial banning of the films, Parzania and Fanaa, to name just two. While in the three instances, the issue was of inconvenient truths, in this case, he is angered that:

“The apostle of truth, peace and non-violence has been represented in a perverted manner”.

Look who’s talking about the apostle of truth, peace and non-violence, when Gandhi’s own great grandsons—Gopalakrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi—and great grandson Tushar Gandhi have no problem!

Appropriating Gandhi is as fashionable as “denigrating” him, it seems.


More than the politicians pavlovian response to a book they haven’t seen, read or understood, it is the Indian media’s faithful participation in the process leading upto the ban that is the most disturbing. It is action replay of the ban on Salman Rushdie‘s Satanic Verses in 1989 based on a review of the book in India Today.

The question the Indian media need to ask themselves today is: Are reviews in Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph or The Wall Street Journal the last word on books or on Gandhi? Should we not read and make up our own mind as a mature democracy? At the very least, should we not expect the proscribers to know what they are talking about?

Gujarat’s (and Maharashtra’s) ban on the Gandhi book comes despite Lelyveld ‘s clarification that he had not said anything about Gandhi’s bi-sexuality, and that had he not claimed in his book that Gandhi was a racist.

So, what gives?

In Pratibha Nandakumar’s story of reactions from Bangaloreans in the Bangalore Mirror titled ‘Fashionable to slander Gandhi’, she states without provocation: “If this was a strategic publicity campaign, his agent gets full credit. Everybody wants to get a copy.”

At this rate, we just might not.

Lelyveld is no lightweight, fly-by-night author trying to rack up some sales by creating some buzz. He is a two-time executive editor of the New York Times whose previous tome was on apartheid in South Africa.

Yet, he finds his book banned despite his clarification to the Times of India in a story it ran on 29 March 2011.

In the ToI report, Ahmedabad-based Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud was reported not only to have interacted with Lelyveld when he was researching the book but also as having read it:

“He (Suhrud)  is aghast with the reviews and swears by Lelyveld…. Suhrud goes on to give full marks to Lelyveld and the book. He says it is the first political biography of Gandhi by an expert on apartheid,” says the ToI report.

This did not stop the world’s most-selling English daily’s city supplement, Ahmedabad Times, from posting two pages of “reactions” from “celebrities” on 30 March. Not one of them had read the book, and of the 19 celebrities interviewed only three were aware that the author had denied having made any of the claims that were doing the rounds in the UK and US media.

The others reacted variously to what they had read in the media, that it was wrong (of the author) to talk of Gandhi in this way. A sketchy paragraph that did not clarify the issue introduced this photo feature. The paper did not make it clear to the reader that the author had denied having called Gandhi a bisexual or racist.

Nor did it differentiate between the book and the reviews, making them both sound synonymous.

One wonders if the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) had access to the book when it quoted passages in the story it ran on 28 March, or if it simply borrowed the passages from what was floating around online.

On 30 March, in a comment appearing on Hindustan Times online, the writer reproduces a quote by Suhrud that appears in the book (“They were like a couple”) by dropping a key word (“They were a couple”), completely misrepresenting Suhrud in the process. Such is the rush of the press.

In an interview to The Indian Express on 29 March, Lelyveld told journalist Mandakini Gahlot:

“The reason Western media reports are highlighting the ‘bisexual and racist’ aspect is ‘because of the atmosphere we live in where anything is plucked off and reported everywhere as news. The news aggregators are full of it this morning. There is no real reporting, people have not even read the book.”

The God is in the details though.

Whether or not the author questioned Gandhi’s sexuality, Indians have always been uncomfortable with Gandhi’s own honesty.

At a seminar on Gandhi, which was organised by the women’s studies department of NMKRV College in Bangalore in the late 1990s, two young students were at the receiving end of Gandhians’ ire. Their offence was to publicly discuss, from a feminist perspective, his nocturnal experiments with the teenaged nieces.

When they wondered aloud, just as any young woman would (should?), if he had considered the impact of his experiment on the young 17-year-old’s mind, many members in the audience stormed out of the auditorium.

No debate, no discussion.

The latest ban is proof that nothing has changed, only the players have.

Photograph: Mahatma Gandhi (left) with the jewish bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach (right), with whom he is alleged to have shared a relationship even while being happily married.

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18 Responses to “‘Bisexual’ Gandhi, bachelor Modi & ‘author’ Moily”

  1. Alok Says:

    Just a related thought:

    I think this is a reflection of the fact that India was never a “reading culture” mostly because of the caste monopoly on literature and texts owned by Brahmins. Naturally, people’s source of information was mostly oral and verbal traditions, which were considered as true, if not true-er than the texts themselves.

    So it doesn’t matter what the book actually says. What is more important is what we’ve heard someone else say about it.

    Of course, it complicates things that the reactions are to what was written about the book, but since there is no culture of actually going back to the source and thinking for oneself, what someone says (or writes) about the book is good enough for us.

    So yeah, in short, for those with short attention spans and no brains, i.e., who usually comment on posts in churumuri: IT IS ALL THE FAULT OF BRAHMINS!

  2. DailyBread Says:

    >when Gandhi’s own great grandsons—Gopalakrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi—and great grandson Tushar Gandhi have no problem!
    Appropriating Gandhi is as fashionable as “denigrating” him, it seems.

    Mallya Madam, if we understand you correctly, you are saying that Mohandas belongs to his great grandsons and Mahatma was not the father of the nation.

    FYI, other Mallya with the money collected from mahatma’s children of this great nation has done much more to preserve & protect Gandhi’s legacy than Tushar Gandhi of Abu Azmi’s party.

  3. Sahana Says:

    “when Gandhi’s own great grandsons—Gopalakrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi—and great grandson Tushar Gandhi have no problem!”

    So just by having won the Gandhi gene lottery, the views of these people are somehow more valuable than those of the rest of us ? Do they have a prior say over all things pertaining to Gandhi or does Gandhi belong to all of us, in India and abroad? If Rahul Gandhi says he condones the Emergency of 1975, does it mean the Emergency becomes any less abhorrent?

  4. Raghunandan Says:

    First of all nobody is clear whether the author of this book has really made these observations on Gandhi. But for the discussion let’s assume that it is true.
    Sexuality is a natural human instinct and its expression varies in each individual. Some may express it by means of homosexuality and others by having multiple relationships. There is nothing right or wrong about this and it all depends on the impact such expressions would have on the individual and his immediate circle. The individual is the only person who can decide whether he is on the right path or not.
    All humans have a dark side or rather the ‘other’ side which is not for public consumption (probably not even his/her close circle). This side of the human needs to be respected and should not be brought out in public even if someone is privy to this. And there is no need for the public to be privy to this information. Sexuality and its expression belong to this ‘other’ side.
    Coming to the question of freedom of expression – Is the author in this case not invading the privacy of the individual who is not even alive to defend himself. ?. Freedom of expression cannot be at the cost of an individual’s privacy. We all need to remember that every right guaranteed in our constitution comes with responsibility and accountability. One individual’s right cannot trespass another individual’s right.
    It’s become fashionable in our country for the intelligentsia to cry foul every time the government bans an author/his writings. I am not justifying that the government is always right. But in this case I am not what is the value add this book would do to us as a country and as a society. It will probably end up in lowering the dignity of the great man in the eyes of GenX/Y who are not even aware of the greatness of this man.

  5. karihaida Says:

    Time to retroactively add Gandhi’s name to Megan’s list

  6. mo Says:

    does anyone still think that india is a democratic nation in which we have freedom of speech? who has the *right* not to be offended?

    exercising freedom of speech may well be offensive, but that is up to the person who takes offence. the ban is certainly offensive to the author and
    anyone who believes in freedom of speech, who are theoretically equal before the law.

    banning a book to make someone feel better (or, indeed, for any other reason) is incompatible with freedom of speech and absolutely anti-democratic.

    ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

  7. twistleton Says:

    Talk about naked truth :D

    Gandhi was obsessed, almost masochistic with his penchant for honesty. He threw himself out there, vulnerabilities and all and stretched himself to his moral limits, pretty much like an athelete who undergoes endurance training.

    He even stretched the realm of truth to his “niji zindagi”, and in the process bared his soul, warts and all for everyone to judge. Imagine working up the guts to tell everything about yourself to everybody :D

    Gandhi tried to train his soul but i wonder if he discovered the untenability of extremes… he must have.

    But the point is, READ THE BOOK FIRST, which kind of defeats the purpose of the ban :D

  8. Indu Ramesh Says:

    It can happen only in India! We will not read the book, we will not have a seminar on it, we will not not ask those who have come up with this ‘bisexual’ story where and on what page in the book is it mentioned. Hand it to our politicians, to talk about something they do not about, or even care about.

  9. Vijay Says:

    Please stop calling India “a mature democracy”. It is the expression of liberal westernised hope rather than a statement of fact.

  10. DailyBread Says:


    >Time to retroactively add Gandhi’s name to Megan’s list


  11. mounaprasad Says:

    It was Maharashtra which banned this book first, hence Vinutha’s assertion it was Modi who did it first is baseless. Gandhi by his own admission was experimenting on celibacy by sleeping naked between 2 women. So what is the big deal if he was also bi-sexual? I really feel sorry for the 2 ladies who slept next to naked Gandhi. Also Chachaji was a known womanizer, even though nobody speaks about it. One of the jokes that was going around at the time of independence was that Mountbatten recommended to Atlee to make India a free country just to whisk away Edwina Mountbatten who was flirting with chachaji. So there is nothing sacrosanct about the national leaders.

  12. Yella Ok Says:

    Even as I agree that the ban should be lifted, I wonder why the rant is so much against Modi and not against the maharashtra govt which first banned the book. No wonder, people like VM are hardly trusted outside their own coterie.

  13. prathibha nandakumar Says:


    I have read EVERY review and comment about this book and just as Joseph Lelyveld has every right to write the book so also people have to comment. My complaint though is not against him but against the reviewers who saw too much or read too much between lines and came out with such exclamations that as i said in the write up demands a lot of explaining to do. Some headings are atrocious to say the least. It is one thing to scrutinize Gandhi another to ‘allege’ without knowing him.
    I am not for banning any book and your write up speculating if Indian media has aided the ban on the book is EXACTLY on the same level as my speculation if it is ‘fashionable to slander Gandhi?’. You forgot the question mark while quoting – which makes a hell of a difference to the tone.
    I am totally with you when you take on the press for its rush. But you know how it is.
    We are Indians and the ban of the book is the mildest of our reaction, though not justified. Had it been one of the ‘demi-gods’ (i refuse to name) then god forbid we would be reporting a riot.

    And one last thing – ‘Lelyveld may not be a lightweight, fly-by-night author trying to rack up some sales by creating some buzz’ but even the best of the top grade authors/publishers are not beyond a publicity stunt of this kind/magnitude.

  14. Vinutha Mallya Says:

    @Mounaprasad and @Yella OK: Maharashtra has not yet officially banned the book, and it was “taking steps to” at the time this was written. In Gujarat, the ban was passed in the state assembly “unanimously” just 30 minutes before I began writing this.

  15. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Stanley Wolpert’s novel “Nine Hours to Rama” has been banned in India for sixty years because in it the narrator presents Ghodse as everyman, confused and uncertain, worthy of sympathy. In our secular democracy M. K. Gandhi is God to his Hindu devotees. John Masters’ novel “Bhowani Junction” is also on the list of banned books because in it an ignorant character says something ugly about the Mahatma. Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” cannot be studied academically in India because the book is verboten just like his “Midnight’s Children” because it makes fun of another, lesser Gandhi. Khushwanth Singh, that tireless toady of the new monarchy was promptly fired as editor of “The Illustrated Weekly” because in one of its issues he published a mildly satirical article which included Indira Gandhi as one of our champion bores. The man is still awaiting a nomination to the Rajyasabha by the Royal Family.

    Alok certainly has a point to make about our not being “a reading culture.” Ours must be the only country in the world where persons are considered literate just because they can sign their names. An electronic popular revolution like the one in Egypt cannot happen in India.

    The truth is we are still enslaved by the laws crafted by the British to ensure their imperialistic hold on the country. Nothing that was even remotely criitical of British policies or the villanies of the local feudatories would openly see the light of day, authors of such publications often threatened with jail or a long stint in Andaman. Most of the colonial jurisprudence of the British is still in place in the country because it helps whatever party happens to be in power.

    Now the government in New Delhi is considering banning blogs that are critical of government policies and practices?

    Incidentally, I do think it is a good idea to read a book or whatever before criticising it. In our own Kannadaland, Anakru was under constant threat of prosecution as was Sundar Raj. P. V. Narayana still has not been able to publish his novel about Basava, I mean “Shree Bhakti Bhaandari Basaveshwara;” Maathe Mahadevi will have to wait forever for her feminist recasting of vachanas to reach us. Banjagere Jayaprakash “withdrew” his work about Lord Basaveshwara after being threatened with prosecution.

    He, Ram.

  16. mysore peshva Says:

    i guffawed at the use of quotes around “moily.” :)

  17. Doddi Buddi Says:

    I agree with VM on this one! MKG has made Indians down the years very uncomfortable with his “hands-on” approach to sex. I am sure he must have ruined the young lives of the two nubile girls he experimented with during his experimentation days. May be there was a book in Sabarmati Ashram that went missing called “My Experiments with Sexual Truth” but who can tell?

    Thanks for Tigers Whiskers the Ultimate in showcasing some of the banned books. I think I would like to get my hands on a copy of “She” by M.O. Mathai and also on the umpteen numbers of books that were banned by the Congress government since independence.

  18. Vikram Says:

    Way…… in the future, when Gandhi will be a messiah, there will be fights if Gandhi was even married to K Bai. Sex is looked upon to be at such low standards. Why? Is it not natural to have a sex?

    A book is not a billboard or a loud speaker, it has covers which keeps the information content within itself, so banning a book is unnecessary. If the ban is targeted to prevent people from reading the book, for such people who were responsible for banning it, all I have to say is – Was Gandhi a gay or straight or bi? Is a question to gather information, no issues with that. Suppose he was gay/bi well what’s wrong with that, why panic and ban a book? Was he not as human(an animal) as a gay or a straight person is?

    Conservatives are same all over the world, they just simply can’t mind their own life. Some have sex for pleasure, some for having children, some for both or other reasons, which is entirely left to them, few people start making up and imposing rules(views) on others about how, why, with whom, where, when… they should have sex. LKB galu.

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