Tushar Gandhi is the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the son of Journalist Arun Manilal Gandhi. He is the author of the book Let’s Kill Gandhi. He runs the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation and has been appointed as the Goodwill AmbassadorÂ of the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition, IIMSAM. He is a peace activist and has worked against Child Trafficking.
Our correspondent Shraddha Sankhe got a chance to interview him and ask him questions about himself, the controversies and Mahatma Gandhi.
Below is the interview, un-cut.
A doctor’s son/grandson aspires to be a doctor. Same applies to lawyers. As the great grandson of some one of the stature of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi-why are you not involved in active politics? Why do you call yourself a failed politician?
You must understand that even in case of professions the hereditary is due to the influence exerted not part of the DNA make up. Otherwise our profession determining gene would have been identified. So I do not subscribe to the school which says that a Doctor’s heir will be medical practitioner only. Having said that with Bapu there was never a design to bequest the political mantle on his biological heirs and so he did not groom any of his four sons to take over his mantle and since the link was broken at the very first generation it did not continue any further. Some of us has got the itch and have tried our hands. Sumatra Kulkarni My aunt and my father’s cousin was a member of the Rajya Sabha, and then she tried to lobby for a nomination in the presidential election and failed. Another cousin of my father’s, Rajmohan Gandhi stood and lost against Rajeev Gandhi from Amethi when V. P. Singh fought the election on the Anti Bofors plank he was soon disillusioned and quit politics. I was desperate to have a political career at one stage I stood for election from the Mumbai Northwest Constituency on a joint Samajwadi Party and Congress ticket in 1998. I fought against Madhukar Sarpotdar of the Shiv Sena. I lost by 18,000.00 votes. I survived in politics for two more years and then called it quits realizing that I did not have the requisite abilities in me to become a successful politician under the prevalent conditions and so I have to honestly admit that I am a failed politician. No, Mahatma is not a result of a gene, it is not an inheritable quality or attribute. It is earned, not inherited.
Grandchildren inherit the qualities of their grandparents. What qualities have you inherited from Mahatma Gandhi?
The quality that made him a Mahatma is again not due to a gene or encoded into his DNA and so it is not inheritable. He attained the status of Mahatma because of his work and his spirit and so expecting any of us to have inherited any of those qualities is a bit of a impossible ask and expectation. I always ask my audiences to accept a great grandson not a Mahatma. If I am proud of a quality I feel I have inherited from both my great grandparents is the quality of persistence and the ability to judge people from behind the masks they wear to conceal their real self. We all do that and not many have the ability to look through the mask and see the real person. I have also inherited the ability to persevere with the task taken in hand and not give up no matter how daunting and challenging it may become. From Kasturba I have inherited the quality of being steadfast and practical not in the compromising sense of the word but in the sense of being able to put things in their correct perspective. From both of them I have learned the ability of being true with myself which in turn helps make me be honest with others.
How much of an advantage or a disadvantage has it been carrying the surname Gandhi with your name?
The legacy brings with it responsibilities and expectations as your first question indicates. But honestly speaking the advantages that come along with the legacy far outweigh any disadvantage.
A great leader, great philosopher, lawyer, a scholar and a practitioner of peace and non-violence-Bapu-did not get Nobel Peace Prize which he truly deserved. It is a loss to not just the Gandhi family but also to India as a nation. What is your opinion?
I believe that the loss is that of the Nobel Peace Prize itself. Bapu did not care for any awards or recognitions. By associating with Bapu- the Nobel Peace Prize would have acquired a certain stature and credibility today it has lost out on it. I very strongly believe that the Nobel Peace Prize was at a loss not having been associated with Bapu.
What made you write Let’s Kill Gandhi-the book?
I was always angered by the campaign of lies launched by the Sangh Parivaar to justify Bapu’s murder and I felt that it was my responsibility to tell the real story of how Bapu was murdered to the nation which had grown up listening to the propaganda of misinformation and this anger finally took the shape of ‘Let’s Kill Gandhi!’
Wasn’t it more of an ideology (the anger against certain policies of Gandhiji) and less of an individual (Nathuram Godse-the Brahmin) who assassinated him?
It was a result of extreme prejudice, irrational belief and a clever manipulation of an misdirected outrage that combined to use Nathuram as the assassin. Anger against policies of Bapu was a convenient excuse, but it was a very lame excuse. His being a Brahmin and all the persons closely involved in the conspiracy being Brahmins from Poona was may be a coincidence.
Was Nathuram Godse a mad man? Or was he driven by a radical ideology? What must have Nathuram Godse and his family gained in assassinating Bapu?
Nathuram Godse was a psychologically troubled person, he was prone to extreme rage and harbored a pathological hatred for anyone who did not believe in his ideology. He had a record of very violent outbursts against those he considered his opponents and those who he considered rivals. These traits were exploited by his masters and he was very expertly maneuvered to a point where he became the assassin. Nathuram earned the veneration of people who till today subscribe to the ideology of hate and revenge. Amongst the Sanghi circles he is eulogized as Pandit Nathuram the martyr. From the point of view of those who subscribe to the same ideology of hatred, he was an idealist and inspiration but in reality he was a pathological killer, a common murderer. His family suffered the consequences of his act. I remember visiting the home of Gopal Godse in the early seventies soon after his release from prison. My grand mother wished to meet Gopal and Sindhutai his wife. She wanted to convey to them that Bapu’s family had forgiven them. I was extremely perplexed as to why we were doing it, How could we forgive some one who showed no remorse who did not repent the dastardly deed, but I did not have a say in the matter. I remember that Sindhutai was very bitter having had to live through the phase when her husband was in prison and she and her children had been abandoned. I remember Gopal Godse being very critical of how even their ideological supporters and colleagues had distanced themselves from the family at that time. It was only when in the late 80s the Sangh Parivaar came out of the closet that they started celebrating the legacy of Nathuram Godse, the murderer.
Have you encountered teachers whose ideologies lay contrarian to Gandhiji’s and how did they project it to you?
Till the 10th standard I studied in a school run by very eminent Gandhians and freedom fighters so I did not come across any teachers who were anti Gandhi or as you say whose ideologies lay contrarian to Bapu. In college I remember there were professors who were Nickerwalas but they steered clear of having any ideological or political discussions with me but I sensed the hostility. But I have many Nickerwala friends and contrary to expectations we do not fight continuously we respectfully tolerate each other’s belief and ensure that our deferring ideologies do not clash or come in the way of our friendship.
What is the Gandhi family like today? How much of M.K Gandhi’s ideology does the average Gandhi clan member agree with or follow?
The Gandhi family is very like any other large clan or family. There are many of my relatives I have never met and may not even recognize if we were not introduced. It would be very difficult to quantify how much of Bapu’s ideology each one of us has imbibed. If you ask me I myself don’t know how much of his ideology I have imbibed. In my day to day life I don’t audit all my actions to find out how much of it confirms with the ideology and philosophy of Bapu. But when the chips are down and when faced with certain situations or in performing major tasks or when faced with a crises Gandhian philosophy and ideology has come in very handy so have Gandhian methods.
Tell us something about the family, the children. How did it feel reading about Gandhiji in books while growing up? What was your first reaction to Gandhiji’s reference as the Father of the Nation as a child?
Ba and Bapu had four sons Harilal, Manilal my grandfather, Ramdas and Devadas. We are roughly about a hundred and twenty living descendants from them. I was made aware of my legacy and my ancestry very early in life and so did not react when I found my great grandfather being featured in text books or in books or movies and documentaries. It was a naturally accepted fact. I remember that in school in the History class when we were studying our freedom movement every one took it for granted that I was the ultimate authority on the subject, so much so that even the teacher deferred to me. I once created a major scandal in school when without realizing it very flippantly and carelessly while answering a question I said that India gained independence in 1948 instead of 1947. I immediately realized my mistake and corrected myself but my whole school went into a state of shock. I was almost lynched. The matter was reported to my principal who was reduced to tears and my parents were called to school and I kept repeating that It was a slip of the tongue but no explanation was good enough for any of them. Till the day he dies my principal did not forgive me for that mistake I had committed. Since I had been sensitized to my ancestry I was also aware of all the titles bestowed on Bapu and so him being referred to as the Father of the Nation was not surprising or overbearing for me.
You’ve been termed as the Great Grandson who is ‘Marketing the Mahatma’ or someone who is ‘Busy Branding Bapu’. How do you react to these statements? Ref: the Mont Blanc controversy.
I will have to live with these jibes for the rest of my life and I am not bothered by the criticism and venom directed towards me. I know why I am doing certain things. I am not marketing Bapu. Bapu’s image is much in demand for endorsing products and companies. I only police its usage. By keeping the right to refusal I control the abuse of his image. In allowing the use of his image by certain products or corporations I ensure that they are not involved in any activity which is contrary to his belief and philosophy. I also believe that by charging for the use of his image funds can be garnered for a good cause there is no harm in doing so. I have never solicited fees for the use of his image for personal enrichment whenever a fee has been paid it is to a registered NGO engaged in some work which is in conformation with the spirit of Bapu’s belief and ideology. I do not believe that only some people can pay tributes to Bapu. I saw no harm in Mont Blanc bringing out a limited edition commemorative pen honoring Bapu and the money the donated went towards building a school for rescued child laborers near Kolhapur. I don’t see why then it was wrong just because Mont Blanc is a manufacturer of luxury goods?
You’ve been associated with United Nations’Â Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition. And you’re involved in peace projects against Child Trafficking. Can you tell more about these?
Spirulina is a highly nutritious algae which is very effective in fighting malnutrition and in treating children suffering from acute malnutrition. I joined the initiative because I believe that starvation is one of the most violent form of poverty and invariably the victims are children and so I associated with IIMSAM which is active in Africa and Latin America, I believe that India too needs to embrace this program to alleviate the misery of its starving millions. My association with IIMSAM is in the nascent stage at the moment but I am sure one day we will be able to make a difference in the lives of Poorest of poor and the weakest of weak in India. Since I am the most publicly seen descendant many causes working in fields of Peace and non violence wish to gain acceptance by associating with the Gandhi image and so they invite me to associate with their projects and bring the Gandhi stamp with me. After satisfying myself that the work is being done ethically and with sincerity and honesty I associate with such projects one such project is the Seeds of Peace program which is jointly conducted by an NGO and the American Center For the past ten years we have been sending children from schools in Mumbai to attend a camp in Main, USA for six weeks where they interact with children from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, Cyprus, Palestine, Israel etc. and learn to see each other as human beings instead of enemies. The program has made a difference to the outlook of the children who have been to those camps and it has rubbed off on their parents, siblings and peers too. The Mahatma Gandhi Foundation headed by me and the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute established by my father in the US are collaborating to establish a school and shelter for rescued child laborers in Kolhapur. Poverty imperils children the most and majority of the children trafficked are because of the extreme poverty faced by their parents. The situation is so perilous that the children are eventually trafficked into the sex trades or into a life of crime. They need to be removed from the perilous circumstances and placed in a safe haven where they can be nurtured and equipped with a suitable education and vocation before they can become productive members of the society.
Considering the present day scenario, how do you think we can, “Be the change” – as Gandhiji used to say?
The present scenario does not preclude one from becoming the catalyst of change by changing oneself but the present scenario faced by the youth today makes it imperative that they become the agents of change by first changing themselves. At one time I had designed a line of t-shirts with quotes of Bapuji the most popular one was the one with the slogan ‘ An ounce of practice is more effective than a ton of preaching’ young people lapped up t-shirts with that slogan. That quotation means the same as ‘be the change’. If one were to take corruption for instance, corruption is a two way street, the giver is as guilty as the one who demands the bribe. Like it is said in the trade of endangered animal products, the slogan ‘When the buying stops, the killing will.’ So will it be in case of corruption, when the giving stops the demands will also diminish. Take for example when one violates traffic rules and is caught, instead of accepting a fine the general reaction is to bribe the constable. The youth will have to change and become inspirations for others and when others see the difference they bring about they will follow and that is how lasting change is achieved and is sustained.
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