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UPA government not to ban book on Gandhiji

Smita Gupta

NEW DELHI: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, after some thought, has abandoned the idea of either tightening the laws to “protect the honour” of Mahatma Gandhi or of banning his controversial biography, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning former executive editor of The New York Times Joseph Lelyveld.The call for a ban came after some reviewers quoted correspondence which they interpreted as evidence that Gandhiji was a bisexual and racist.“We are not contemplating any ban or change in any law,” Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily has told The Hindu , pointing out that Mr. Lelyveld himself had said that he had not written any of the things that were being attributed to his book, and so “there is no cause of action.” Meanwhile, highly placed government sources in Maharashtra — where Industries Minister Narayan Rane had given a call to ban the book earlier this week, as it “maligns Mahatma Gandhi's image” — told The Hindu, “We will take our cue from the Central government.”

Neighbouring Gujarat has already announced a ban. Condemning the idea of a ban, Mr. Lelyveld was quoted earlier this week as saying, “In a country 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. They should at least make an effort to see the pages that they think offend them before they take such an extreme step.” However, while most Congressmen agree that a ban serves no purpose, some feel that amending the National Honour Act would not be a bad idea. A senior party leader, referring to the controversy in 2009 over the English film based on Alex von Tunzelmann's book Indian Summer: Secret History of the End of an Empire film, which focuses on the relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, said: “I am opposed to banning, as it does not serve any purpose, especially in an age where everything is available on the Internet. But Mr. Moily's idea of amending the National Honour Act might help. We need to give serious thought to protecting the images of important personages.”

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