JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 30, 2011
[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]
In a decision that is equally silly and thuggish, the government of the Indian state of Gujarat has decided to ban Josheph Llelyveld's new book, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India. Gandhi, who was himself Gujarati, is described by Llelyveld in the book as having an intimate relationship with a German man named Hermann Kallenbach. As Llelyveld explains here, his book does not say that Gandhi and Kallenback were lovers. Nor does Llelyveld claim to have any huge discoveries about the relationship, which has been written about previously. Not that any of this matters: regardless of the facts of Gandhi's life, banning the book is an illiberal, reactionary gesture. Other states, like Maharastra, appear to be following in Gujarat's footsteps. And now there is even talk that the national government will ban Llelyveld's book. (I have a review of the book in a forthcoming print edition of TNR).
It is no surprise that the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, supports the ban; more depressing has been the willingness of political leaders across the spectrum to go along with, or mimic, Gujarat's action. (Modi is best known for his incitement of anti-Muslim riots in which thousands were killed). Here is part of his statement on the ban:
"The writing is perverse in nature. It has hurt the sentiments of those with capacity for sane and logical thinking. This attempt to defame Mahatma Gandhi by the publisher has come under severe criticism not only in Gujarat but from all corners of India. Mahatma Gandhi is an idol not only in India but in the entire world. While his life -- dedicated to the welfare of the mankind -- has been an inspiration, the author has hurt the sentiments of [millions] of people."
As usual, we have entered the world of hurt feelings and sensibilities. And, as was the case with Salman Rushdie, and since the book is not yet available in India, many of the critics have clearly not even read what they are denouncing. (Llelyveld wryly told the Associated Press, “It should not be hard for anyone to determine what it actually says. It’s a pious hope, but I’d say someone might take the trouble to look at it before it’s banned.”) A number of Indian commentators have already noted how disgraceful these moves are. One hopes their voices carry the day.