A new biography of Mohandas Gandhi has sparked outrage in India because it depicts the Mahatma as a racist and a bisexual.
Joseph Lelyveld's Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India claims that the founder of modern India had a sexual relationship with Hermann Kallenbach, a German-Jewish bodybuilder and also made disparaging remarks about black Africans during his early years in South Africa.
Supporters of Gandhi have blasted the book as blasphemous
The book alleges that Gandhi left his wife for Kallenbach in 1908.
In one passage the book states: Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach about 'how completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance', adding that Gandhi nicknamed himself Upper House and Kallenbach Lower House.
The book continues: He made Lower House promise not to 'look lustfully upon any woman.' The two then pledged 'more love, and yet more love . . . such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.'
Lelyveld has defended his book, telling the Times of India: I do not allege that Gandhi is a racist or bisexual in 'Great Soul'. The word 'bisexual' nowhere appears in the book.
He also added: The word 'racist' is used once to characterize comments by Gandhi early in his stay in South Africa, part of a chapter summarizing his statements about Africans and his relations with them.
The chapter in no way concludes that he was a racist or offers any suggestion of it.
In the book Gandhi is quoted as saying: We were marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs [blacks]. We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized.
Other controversial parts of the book, including allegations that Gandhi slept with underage girls, have long been known.
Sudhir Kakar, an Indian psychoanalyst who has written about Gandhi’s sexuality, said he had never seen nor read any evidence to back the assertion that the Mahatma ever had sexual relations with men.
Gandhi always talked of complete love but it was of platonic kind, he said.
The Mahatma's grandson Gopal Gandhi reportedly said: I will not comment till I read the book.
Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud collaborated with Lelyveld on some parts of the biography and asserts that the criticism is ill-focused.
Lelyveld [asked] me what I think of Gandhi's relationship with Kallenbach and I say, 'It is almost like a couple'. The two had a deep bond that borders on attraction of platonic kind. Joseph is not talking about what the reviewers are claiming, Suhrud said. He explains that in the late 19th century and early 20th century men addressed each other in a way that can be construed now as lovers.
Suhrud also said the book’s critics misinterpreted the sections about Gandhi’s relationship and attitude towards black Africans. Rather, he points out that the book discusses Gandhi’s work with Zulus during the Boer War where he defended the rights of the blacks.
Suhrud praised the book overall, according to Times of India.
It is a fascinating work. Lelyveld shows there is continuity in Gandhi as well as major points of departure. Gandhi of South Africa was not the same as Gandhi of Sabarmati ashram. And Gandhi of Sabarmati was not the same after Dandi March, he said