Bhubaneswar: How did Mahatma Gandhi die? According to a booklet recently published by Odisha’s school and mass education department, Gandhi died ‘accidentally’. The colourful booklet accompanied by photographs is being distributed in all schools across the state.
The two-page booklet, Aama Bapuji: Aka Jhalaka (Our Bapuji: A Glimpse) released by the department to commemorate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary says he died at the Birla House in New Delhi on January 30, 1948 due to an “accidental sequence of events”.
Nathuram Godse had shot Gandhiji dead at a prayer meeting on January 30, 1948, at the Birla House in the presence of hundreds of people. Godse was then apprehended, tried and sentenced to death.
Naturally, the misrepresentation of facts in the booklet has kicked off a row in Odisha as many activists and intellectuals see it as a deliberate attempt to tweak history to mislead the younger generation.
Condemning the state government for bringing out this ‘malicious’ booklet on the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi, they have demanded its immediate withdrawal and an apology from the state school and mass education minister Samir Dash.
“The whole world knows that Godse, a Hindutva radical, murdered Gandhi. But the state school and mass education department has tried to conceal this fact from our future generation,” said Manoranjan Mohanty, a noted social scientist and former professor at Delhi University.
Senior journalist Rabi Das said that it was really shocking if the state government thought about Gandhi’s death this way. But, he said, it had to be ascertained if the officials in the school and mass education department had received the contents of the booklet from the central government or if they had devised it on their own. “Even assuming that they received the content from the central government as part of the 150th anniversary celebration, they should not have overlooked the glaring mistake,” Das said.
Lok Shakti Abhiyan convenor and leading social activist Prafulla Samantara said, “The historical inaccuracy on Gandhiji’s death is a tremendous disrespect to the father of the nation when we are celebrating his 150th anniversary and the state government should immediately enquire about the person responsible for the mess and take appropriate action against him.”
Samantara said that the ‘mischievous’ booklets printed in lakhs had already reached many schools for distribution and that they should be withdrawn and factually corrected before redistribution.
Reacting to the controversy, the Odisha school and mass education minister Samir Dash ruled out any deliberate attempt to distort history. He said that mentioning an “accidental sequence of event” was only meant to avoid hurting the “sentiments of sensitive children” (who might not like to hear about murder or killings). “Even a firing incident is an accident,” he claimed while speaking to The Wire, before adding, “But it would have been better if the facts had been further elaborated.”
Regarding the demand to withdraw the booklets, Dash said that he would speak to the school and mass education department officials and enquire as to what could be done.
Priya Ranjan Sahu is a senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar.