After Nehru, Gandhi’s turn

After Nehru, Gandhi’s turn

It is a matter of serious concern that a number of rare photographs related to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination have been removed from the lobbies of Gandhi Smriti, which was earlier Birla House and houses a range of Gandhi memorabilia. Six panels have been removed, one of which carried Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic photographs of Gandhiji’s final hours before his assassination, his mortal remains lying in state and his funeral. Another panel carried photographs of the pistol that was used to kill Gandhi, his pocket watch, and newspaper headlines on his assassination. There were other photographs also of Gandhi with other national leaders. They were evocative reminders of the life and death of the ‘Father of the Nation’ and their removal from public display could only be considered as an attempt to erase the truth about his assassination from public memory. 

The explanation of the Gandhi Smriti authorities that the panels have been removed for digitisation is not convincing. They have said that all the panels are available in digital format, but critics have felt that watching them on LED screens will not have the same impact as looking at them and reading the texts. The flat-screen displays of selected photographs flashing every 30 seconds will not give the feeling that is to be got from looking at the memorabilia. Some officials have said that the panels bearing the photographs had got damaged and would be replaced, but this did not happen even after many days. It is also claimed that copies of the photographs which were available elsewhere could have been used in place of those that needed restoration. These have cast doubts about the veracity of the explanations.

It was Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi who brought the matter to public attention after a visit to Gandhi Smriti last week. He said that “removing these panels felt like a conspiracy to dilute and erase the evidence of the assassination of Gandhi by those whose ideology had allowed such a tragedy.’’ The suspicion becomes relevant in view of recent attempts to lionise Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. BJP MP Pragya Thakur said Godse was a patriot, and the party has not taken any action against her. The ideas that Gandhi lived and died for are at variance with and contradict the BJP’s ideology and its practice, though it has always paid lip service to him. The decision to remove Gandhi’s favourite hymn, Abide With Me, from the January 29 Beating the Retreat parade should also be seen in this light. These decisions give rise to the suspicion that subtle and systemic attempts are being made to de-emphasise Gandhi and to remove him from public memory.

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