Governor,West Bengal

An old acquaintance!

Gopal Krishna Gandhi

I just read the recent  convocation address of  Mr.Gopal Krishna Gandhi,the Governor of West Bengal at the University of Burdwan. It makes interesting reading and also it kindled my meories of the days past when I got to know the  current Governor  in his young age,perhaps in his teens near Geneva!

Before that anecdote,I want to share how much I enjoyed his convocation speech.He starts with the few anecdotes himself, friends and admirers calling him as a direct successor to Willam Bentinck and Lord Curzon! “One person got mixed up with the phrase”Excellency”and some notions of family distinction  as to say to me,”Sir,I am honoured to meet someone from so extinguished  a family!

“Such  humour apart,Gandhi says one historian wrote him to say that the Bengal Governor now is in a position now,that was once occupied by Nawab Sirajuddaowla! The word, nawab,we are told,is a name for a deputy,the deputy of the Emperor in “Dillee”as it was originally known.And then the Governor goes to the fateful date in Indian history:23rd June 1757,on that day the battle of Plassey(Palashee) was fought and lost! India became once more a slave country! Gandhi is a sensitive person and he traces our historic shame in some detail and tells us how much the British learnt to tell lies, lies about Black Hole of Calcutta and other lies.This is a lie,tells the Governor,for he points out to the fact that the cell into which was stuffed one hundred and forty-four persons measured eighteen feet by four feet and they  all died the next day after  Nawab Sira juddowlah’s  troops took control of Calcutta in June 1757.This story,the Governor tells his audience, had not been fully investigated, not many historians believe this story,no monument for the tragedy exists and only one historian stuck to the version and yet the Black Hole story dominates the imaginations of the British as well as the Indian public.

Anyway,the Governor told  that what matters to Indians today is the need to remember the brave among the Indians.One was Mir Madan, the only one of Sirajuddoula’s four generals who remained true to his salt and paid for his steadfastness with his life. Then he goes into other reflections,how Indians remain even today divided into separate islands,castes and ranks and economic disparities,more challenging than the Mughal and British dominations over thousands of years  After the Partition in 1947,which didn’t last to prove the two-nation theory for Pakistan was also divided in 1971.Then,what remains for Indians to ponder over?This larger question,the Governor didn’t get into! Of course he touches some lighter topics,how classical music and moghlais cuisine and much else was now part of the Indian cultural heritage.I am sure that when he travels more into the interiors of Bengal, to Santiniketan  and much of Bengal countryside,the Governor would realise how  the more popular culture of Bengal itself is a contribution of the Moghul rule.

Now, back to Gandhi.I had met him in a Swiss hill resort sometime in the year 1959-60 when I was tempted by the Moral Rearmament Movement   (MRA)  people for a camp. I was one day taken for a lunch at Oxford where I found I was introduced to Frank Buchman, the founder of the MRA. He blessed us,the unsuspect and only late, much later in Geneva,I was to learn this MRA was an anti-Communist movement funded by rich Americans and also it started its days as an Oxford Movement.It had nothing to do with Oxford university,simplybecause he started it at Oxford it was misleadingly called Oxford movement for some time.

It was only in Geneva I found that Rajmohan Gandhi,Gandhiji’s grandson and brother of Gopal Krishna Gandhi was  groomed as the future leader of the MRA. What put me off was the fact that Rajmohan(now a friend of mine)was introduced by one enthusiast of the founder,Peter Howard,as”the future prophet or future world leader of MRA”.And also in the course of introducing Rajmohan,the speaker went into very simplistic  account of how Gandhiji led the Freedom  struggle. How  Rajmohan’s  mother and father Rajaji went to jail for long time etc.

Somehow, I, as a member of the audience couldn’t stomach  much of what the speaker was telling an audience, a gullible audience that was willing to believe every word uttered on the stage I stood up and shouted! I protested his description of the Freedom struggle and the way he narrated Gandhiji, Rajaji and others. I said”Rajaji didn’t spend that much of time…”
Suddenly there was a hushed silence in the hall!Everyone turned to see who I was!Then somehow the meeting went on and once the meeting was over many people rushed to me to see who am I and what had I got to say. It was at that moment I chanced to meet Gopal Gandhi along with his mother Lakshmi,the distinguished daughter of Rajaji.

Of course the mother was giving me a vivid account of the time spent by Rajaji in various jails. Of course What I really didn’t like was the way the Indian freedom struggle and the MRA were linked.When I saw Gandhi he was just a boy! I remember the young Gandhi telling boldly that “Kashmiri Brahmin Nehru….”I was quite taken aback! Here is a grandson of Gandhi and Rajaji.  I told myself:”Perhaps that was Nehru might have been talked about in the Gandhi-Rajaji households!”

Anyway,the MRA people wanted me to leave the camp at once for I was found to be non-co-operative,they were inducing people to confess to convert etc. I am not sure what the real  activites of MRA were then or later.What I know for sure is that lately,it seems that Rajmohan Gandhi had not much to do with the MRA. Only recently someone told me and in fact invited me that there is an MRA setup in Panchgani near Pune. Yet when I heard of the name MRA I declined the invitation. I am not sure of the present position. As for the Gandhis,I used to meet Rajmohan off and on,once at Kamaraj residence, in New delhi and Bangalore.These were all of course very casual encounters,no deeper discussion of issues,though I continue to read his books and enjoy the wisdom that characterise his viewpoints.

As for Gopal,the last time when I met him he was an IAS official in a TN government department.I was taken to see him  for an obligation ,quite harmless and he obliged me.He impressed me an extremely sensitive personality. That was amply proving  in all his subsequent postings,as Ambassador to Sri Lanka and then Norway.He played a very crucial role in the peace process in the troubled island.I can’t talk more of my own links with Sri Lankan leaders,many of them  I know,some were my friends at Oxford and some visited me in my village,those were all more peaceful times. Now,as Governor of West Bengal,I think  he would make new and innovative contributions in his role.His writings I read eagerly and always writes with much compassion and  reaching out to  people and countries and in all these activities I see the continuation of the Gandhian ideals.So too in the work of much of the Gandhi progeny,Arun Gandhi and also the fourth generation,Tushar Gandhi.Arun Gandhi’s initiative in Palestine conflict was truly historic.

Readers should not expect me to make a comparison  the Gandhi progeny and the Nehruvian dynasty.I am sure that the Gandhi legacy will live and inspire wider world,while dynasties live a more time bound role only. I wish Gopal Gandhi all the best in his new role.He has an audience waiting to hear and respond!

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