Joseph Lelyveld, a former executive editor of the New York Times, has written a biography of Gandhi titled Great Soul. Some comments in this book have created a storm of protest in India. It has been banned by the State of Gujarat, the state where Gandhi hailed from and where he founded his ashram. The Government of India considered banning this book but now seems to have changed its mind.
This article is not about the book. We believe Mr. Lelyveld has the right to write what he believes. Based on some comments, he seems saddened by the vitriolic reaction to his book in India. While he is saddened, there is utter disgust in India, across all strata of Indian society, about his book. But that is not the subject of this article either.
This article has been triggered by a review of this book published in the Entertainment section of the Washington Post on Friday, April 6, 2011. We were appalled by this review. In our opinion, this is a biased, sneering diminution of Gandhi that leaves a stench. We share our reasoning with you below. Then you can judge for yourself.
Gandhi & Teresa
American Newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post know of only two humanitarians from India. They are Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. These newspapers choose not to know or refuse to consider extraordinary humanitarians like Anna Hazare, Baba Amte, just to name two.
Today, Anna Hazare is leading an amazing civil disobedience movement against Government Corruption in India. This movement has spread nationwide. Every Indian Newspaper and Indian TV network has devoted days to covering Anna Hazare. Yet, the New York Times and the Washington Post have studiously ignored him except for blurbs calling him Activist and Hunger Striker.
So we shall also limit our discussion to Gandhi and the well known Teresa. By any reasonable standard, the greatness and achievements of Gandhi were of a far greater level, magnitude and impact that the work of Teresa. Gandhi changed the face of the world and he transformed the fortunes of a huge nation. Gandhi’s work, his strategies and his struggle were followed by Martin Luther King in the USA and by Nelson Mandela in South Africa. He can be reasonably described as the Greatest Human of the 20th Century just as Hitler can be reasonably described as the Worst Human of the 20th Century. While Teresa did excellent work, the scope of her work and achievements pales in comparison to Gandhi’s.
“Deification” of Gandhi as alleged in the Washington Post Review
The Washington Post reviewer, Salil Tripathi, expresses discomfort with the “aura of saintliness” surrounding Gandhi. To support his view, Tripathi reproduces a 1983 quote from Salman Rushdie about the film Gandhi –“Deification is an Indian disease?”. Tripathi uses this old quote to opine “This disease can take a virulent form.”
Let us think about this “Indian Disease”. Has any establishment in India “deified” Gandhi? Not to our knowledge. Have Indian writers and thinkers criticized Gandhi? Yes, many have, some stridently.
In contrast, Pope John Paul made Teresa a Saint. We have not read a single sentence of protest about this “Saintification” in any Washington Post or New York Times article, not a single comment about a “Saintification disease” of the Christian Church or of pre-dominantly Christian Europe.
Have the Washington Post or the New York Times ever published a review of a book that contains negative allegations about Teresa’s personal life? We have never seen one.
Actually, we don’t believe that either the Washington Post or the New York Times would ever publish anything negative about Teresa. Why? Because Teresa has been “Saintified” by the Catholic Church. We don’t believe either the Washington Post or the New York Times would ever dare to be critical of a Christian “Saint”.
But the Washington Post sees nothing wrong about publishing a blatantly biased review about “Hindu” Gandhi that simultaneously denigrates the entire Indian society. We believe that the word “Indian” as used in the above “disease” quote is a code word for Hindu. After all, Islam forbids “deification” and Christianity does not accept “deification”. So who can be accused of a “deification disease”? Hindus!
What about Martin Luther King, Jr.?
It is widely known that Martin Luther King, Jr. was deeply impressed by Gandhi and that he incorporated the Gandhian approach in his work. He visited Gandhi’s birthplace in India in 1959. To quote a section from wikipedia, the trip to India affected King in a profound way, deepening his understanding of non-violent resistance and his commitment to America’s struggle for civil rights. In a radio address made during his final evening in India, King reflected, “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”
It is also known that there were several allegations made about the personal life of Dr. King. So we ask, how many negative articles about Dr. King have been published in the Washington Post or the New York Times? Have these newspapers ever published a book review about Dr. King that panders to a European-American sense of superiority over African-Americans or that contains a comment about an “African-American disease”?
Of course not. The Editors of the Washington Post and the New York Times know that they would be run out of the journalistic profession and banished from their cities if they dared to do so.
But, the Washington Post Editors didn’t think for even a nanosecond about publishing a biased, sneering review about Gandhi. Perhaps, they also believe in the existence of an “Indian (we know the reviewer meant Hindu) disease“.
Was it a Book Review in the Washington Post or a Deliberate Diminution of Gandhi?
Tripathi, the reviewer, calls Gandhi “an Indian hero”. This would be news to people all over the World who consider Gandhi a World Hero. This would be news to Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki who consider Gandhi a South African hero. It would be news to President Barack Obama who considers Gandhi a human hero. And it would shock Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. based on his words quoted above.
After this diminutive label, Tripathi goes on to further diminish Gandhi’s success by lamenting that “Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and the Dalai Lama in exile from Tibet remain unrewarded”. Tripathi seems to insinuate that their lack of rewards is the fault of Gandhi’s methods.
And so why was Gandhi successful according to reviewer Tripathi? Tripathi insinuates that it was because Gandhi faced a less “obstinate” adversary, the British. How typical of a pandering Indian writer living in London?
Tripathi seems to forget that the minority, apartheid-like rule of the British Administration in India was based on aggressive, intimidatory and cruel punishment includi
ng murder of thousands of innocent civilians at the whim of mid level British Officers. Tripathi should at least try to study how Indian leaders other than Gandhi were treated by the British.
There was very good reason for the British to treat Gandhi differently. The tiny British contingent in India ruled with a vast Indian machinery; the Army was Indian, the Police were Indian and the Civil Administration was Indian. Unlike any other leader, the common Indian deeply respected and adored Gandhi. Had Gandhi died in one of his fasts-until-death or at the hands of the British, the Indian Army and Police could have risen against the British.
No British leader was willing to take this risk, not in the slightest. This is why it was deemed to be in the best interests of the British Administration to keep Gandhi safe and sound. Also Gandhi’s approach was to win small successive victories that were palatable to the British Administration but which over time sapped the will of Britain. Gandhi was a brilliant strategist, a master tactician and he carried the vast majority of Indians with him. That is why Gandhi won.
But if your main goal is to diminish Gandhi and pander to the British, then history and facts don’t count.
Tripathi does not stop at pandering to the British. He describes the author Joseph Lelyveld as “a worthy interpreter of Gandhi’s varied life”. Note the term, “varied life”. Tripathi does not refer to Gandhi’s work, his approach, his tactics or his methods. No, by the delicate innuendo of the term “varied life”, Tripathi supports the much criticized attempt of Lelyveld to play “Freud” with Gandhi.
We do not know Mr. Lelyveld or of him. The mere fact that he was a former executive editor of the New York Times does not confer any special “worthiness” to interpret Gandhi, in our opinion. Actually, it might serve to create doubt about his ability to write about a Hindu figure without bias or a deep seated superiority complex.
Why do we feel so? Read below.
Where do Washington Post & New York Times Editors find such “pandering” Indians?
This review by Tripathi in the Washington Post reminded us of a review in the New York Times on April 24, 2009 by an “Indian” author named Pankaj Mishra. That review in the New York Times was about a widely condemned book on Hinduism by a European-American professor. The review by Pankaj Mishra described Indian beliefs as “pagan blasphemies” and praised the work of British historians who studied Hinduism, including Karl Marx, E.M. Forster and a British captain. In our opinion, if any review reeked of Cultural and Religious Defamation, that one by Pankaj Mishra did.
As we wrote at that time, ” In a paraphrase of Justice Stewart, we recognize cultural & religious supremacism when we see it and defamation is a thin line away from inbred, deeply felt supremacism.”
In comparison, Tripathi’ s review is merely a biased, sneering diminution of Gandhi and a studied attempt at pandering to a former New York Times editor.
Where do the Editors of Washington Post and New York Times find such “Indian” reviewers? Do these reviewers come to these newspapers confident of acceptance? Or do these Editors find and use these “pandering Indians” as a fig leaf for their own beliefs and convictions?
Disparate Treatment of Hindus in the New York Times and the Washington Post
In the past few months, reporters of the New York Times and the Washington Post have written articles about religious discrimination against minorities in Pakistan. When you read these articles, you realize that these reporters only care about and only write about discrimination against Christians in Pakistan.
Most people know that millions of Hindus lived in the territories occupied today by the Pakistani regime. Many of these Hindus were cleansed out of the newly created Land-of-the Pure or Pakistan. But there are many Hindus and Sikhs that still live in Pakistan. The discrimination they suffer is horrible.
Yet, not a single writer from the New York Times or the Washington Post ever writes about these Hindus and Sikhs living in Pakistan. They can write about the plight of a single Christian woman in Pakistan but totally ignore what happens to thousands of Hindus and Sikhs.
The motto of the New York Times is “all the news that is fit to print”. So apparently, the New York Times Editors think that discrimination against Hindus in Pakistan is “not fit to print”.
Now do you see why we feel that being a former executive editor of the New York Times is not necessarily an indication of “worthiness” when writing about Gandhi, a man proud of his Hindu Dharma?
Tripathi – Was he right in his concluding remarks?
Near the end of his review, Tripathi quotes George Orwell, “Saints should always be judged guilty until proven innocent”. So we ask, does Tripathi consider Saint Teresa guilty of the many allegations against her until she is proven innocent? Will Tripathi ever write an article describing Saint Teresa the way he described Mahatma Gandhi?
Will the Washington Post publish any such article about “Saintified” Teresa? We doubt it. It is so much easier and safer for the Washington Post to publish an article that describes “deification” as an “Indian Disease” than publish an article that describes “Saintification” as a “disease of the Catholic Church”.
We did like Tripathi’s quote of Orwell’s conclusion about Gandhi, “How clean a smell he has managed to leave behind”.
We leave it to readers to judge the “smell left behind” by Tripathi’s review and by the decision of the Washington Post Editors to publish that review.
Editor’s Note: The above is our opinion of the review by Salil Tripathi and of the decision by the Washington Post Editors to print it. We do not wish to be unfair to the reviewer, Salil Tripathi or to the Editors of the Washington Post and the New York Times. So, in the tradition of this Blog, we invite Mr. Tripathi and the Editors of these two newspapers to express their views and tell us where or if we are wrong. We shall print their responses verbatim.
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