Gandhi book based on archives, says author

Mahatma Gandhi
London, Apr 3: Pulitzer prize-winning author Jeseph Lelyveld, writer of a new book on Mahatma Gandhi that has generated a controversy in India, says that his work is "not sensationalist", and is based on material that is already published and available in the National Archives of India (NAI).

Lelyveld's book, ''Great soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India'', is not yet available in India, which means much of the controversy has been generated based on a review of the book published mainly in Britain's tabloid ''Daily Mail''.

The review, published on 28 Mar, said the book claimed that Gandhi was ''bisexual'' and was ''deeply in love with Hermann Kallenbach'', a Prussian architect and bodybuilder who became Gandhi's disciple in South Africa.

"This is not a sensationalist book. I did not say Gandhi had a male lover. I said he lived with a man who was an architect as well as a body builder for nearly four years. The letters are part of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (volume 96, to be precise) published by the Government of India. They are in the Indian National Archive. That particular volume was first published in 1994. In other words, the material I used contains no news," Lelyveld told PTI by email.

Much of the controversy has arisen over the conclusions in reviews about Gandhi''s sexuality based on extracts of his letters published in the book. The extracts from correspondence available in the NAI suggest a close relationship between Gandhi and Kallenbach, which has been interpreted as bisexual or homosexual.

The Gujarat government has banned the book, while Maharashtra government is planning to do the same.

Lelyveld has opposed the ban on his book, describing the move as "shameful".

"In a country (India) that calls itself a democracy, it is shameful to ban a book that no one has read, including the people who are doing the banning," he said.

"They should at least make an effort to see the pages that they think offend them before they take such an extreme step. I find it very discouraging to think that India would so limit discussion," he said.

In the book, Lelyveld writes that Gandhi destroyed what he called Kallenbach''s "logical and charming love notes" to him, in the belief that he was honoring his friend's wish that they should not be seen by anyone else.

He writes: "But the architect saved all of Gandhi's, and his descendants, decades after his death and Gandhi's, put them up for auction. Only then were the letters acquired by the National Archives of India and, finally, published".


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