As Gita Press is to be conferred the Gandhi Peace Prize, 2021, and the citation reads that “Gandhi Peace Prize 2021 recognises the important and unparalleled contribution of Gita Press, in contributing to collective upliftment of humanity, which personifies Gandhian living in true sense”, it is timely to look at what the records say about what the relationship of the Gita Press has been to Gandhian values, especially on the question of temple entry.
The following excerpts from Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India provide a glimpse of the relationship, through how Kalyan, Gita Press’s flagship monthly, and the magazine’s editor, Hanuman Prasad Poddar, responded to Gandhi’s cause and to his assassination.
Even before 1932, Poddar’s reverence for Gandhi had begun to show signs of weakening.
The man whose simplicity, self-service, spirituality and love for swadeshi had drawn Poddar so intensely was no longer his hero but the biggest stumbling block and challenge to the traditional Hindu order. Still, the relationship between Poddar and Gandhi was marked by occasional warmth. In 1937, Poddar wrote to Gandhi about an earlymorning dream he had in which someone told him ‘Gandhi is not going to live for too long. He should spend rest of his life in praying to god.’ Poddar said he rarely had such dreams, but hoped this one would turn out to be false. ‘I debated for long whether to write to you or not. Please tear off this letter after reading so that others do not get to know about my insolent behaviour.’ Gandhi chose to call Poddar’s dream a sign of love’.
‘As for death, it is a companion of birth and a very faithful one. It never fails. Why should one worship god only when nearing death? What I regard as worship goes on every moment.’ Gandhi also asked Poddar why he wanted his dream to be false. ‘Even if I live to be a hundred, it will seem too short to my friends. Then what does today or tomorrow matter?’ Again in 1940 when Gandhi set up the Goseva Sangh, Jamnalal Bajaj wrote to Poddar seeking his views on the constitution of the new body. Bajaj requested Poddar to become an ordinary member of the Sangh and shoulder some of its responsibility. Bajaj said the idea to involve Poddar had come directly from Gandhi.60 Though Poddar opposed Gandhi through Kalyan, privately he respected the Mahatma. Writing to Bajaj from Gorakhpur, he said, ‘I cannot understand many of Bapu’s ideas and works. In many cases my heart openly opposes them. They create problems for me. But then Bapu is Bapu. After all, what has [one’s opinion on] Mahatma Gandhi’s views to do with bhakti to Bapu.’
Poddar—who had consciously distanced himself from the Congress party since the Ahmedabad Congress of1921—was now openly working with the Hindu Mahasabha. He was among the key organizers of the Mahasabha’s annual convention in Gorakhpur in 1946.62 This, coupled with Kalyan’s virulent attack on Gandhi, was to cause Poddar considerable trouble five months after Independence. Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948 in Delhi’s Birla House by Nathuram Godse and others associated with the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, resulted in the arrest of more than 25,000 people throughout the country—among them Poddar and his mentor Jaydayal Goyandka. G.D. Birla refused to help the two, and even protested when Sir Badridas Goenka took up their case. For Birla, the two were not propagating sanatan dharma but shaitan (evil) dharma. Strangely, the rich private archives in Gorakhpur contain no reference to Gandhi’s assassination. Even the series of monographs and laudatory biographies of Poddar ignore the event completely. The only reference to Gandhi’s assassination comes in an unpublished manuscript of Poddar’s biography. It says Poddar was in Delhi on 30 January 1948 when the assassination took place. The manuscript squarely blames Mahavir Prasad Poddar, a former manager of Gita Press and close aide of Hanuman Prasad and Goyandka, for spreading suspicion against the two for alleged involvement in Gandhi’s killing. Due to various reasons Mahavir Prasad is spreading the malicious rumour that Bhaiji (Hanuman Prasad Poddar), Gita Press and Kalyan are responsible for (the) assassination. For the past few months he has been writing to many Congress leaders.’
According to the manuscript, Hanuman Prasad was troubled for a few months but travelled fearlessly to Lucknow, Allahabad, Calcutta, Delhi, Ratangarh and other places. The district magistrate of Gorakhpur alerted Poddar not to return to the city for some time as an arrest warrant might be issued against him. The revealing aspect of the manuscript is its muted tone in reference to ‘the unfortunate incident’. Since Gambhirchand Dujari, the chronicler of Hanuman Prasad’s life, was not in Gorakhpur in 1948, his biography does not provide any illumination either. Gita Press maintained a studied silence on the Mahatma’s assassination. The man whose blessing and writings were once so important for Kalyan did not find a single mention in its pages until April 1948 when Poddar wrote about his various encounters with Gandhi. Excerpts from his writings would later return to the pages of the journal, but the significant question remains unanswered: Why was there no mention of Gandhi in the February and March 1948 issues of Kalyan?
The CID Archives partly answer this question. Poddar was actively involved in defending the RSS that had been banned on 4 February 1948 for its alleged role in Gandhi’s assassination. On 15 July 1949— four days after the Nehru government lifted the ban on the RSS— Poddar attended a public meeting at Gorakhpur with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then editor of RSS weekly Panchjanya. Vajpayee criticized the ‘government and Congressmen for having allegedly blundered in banning the RSS, the only organization which could really do something for Hindus’. He added that the government ‘did not deserve thanks for having lifted the ban as it had taken them one and half years to correct their mistake’. Poddar, the CID report said, also delivered a short speech on similar lines’. Poddar’s association with the RSS was not limited to attending this public meeting with Vajpayee. After Golwalkar was released from jail in 1949 and toured important towns of the United Provinces, Poddar presided over a function to welcome him at Banaras. In his speech delivered in fluent Hindi—the CID claimed 30,000 people came to hear the RSS chief at the Town Hall—Golwalkar emphasized the revival of ancient Hindu culture, consolidation of India and the adoption of Hindi as the state language. Golwalkar’s speech went on even as ‘processions sponsored by Socialists and supported by Communists were taken out with slogans such as Golwalkar laut jao and Bapu Ke Hattiara Sangh (Golwalkar, go back; RSS, the killer of Bapu). Golwalkar was shown black flags and some hundred protestors were arrested.’
On Temple Entry
The relationship between Gita Press and the Mahatma grew tempestuous after a series of deep disagreements on caste and communal issues, such as temple entry for Harijans and the Poona Pact. Still, Kalyan carried a total of fifty-four articles by Gandhi going by index of writers in Poddar Papers, some extracted from Navjivan and Harijan, but most others specially commissioned and a few even carried posthumously. Poddar would often contact Jamnalal Bajaj or Mahadev Desai for a contribution from the Mahatma. At times, Pyarelal, another of Gandhi’s aides, would select the piece and send it to Kalyan with Bapu’s approval. Gandhi wrote on a whole range of issues, from the importance of God in one’s life to the influence of Western culture, the status of Hindu widows and the merits of cow protection. Interestingly, Gandhi’s articles appeared even during the tumultuous 1940s when Kalyan was severely critical of him for his stand on Muslims. Jamnalal Bajaj, among the closest to Gandhi and called his fifth son, did not exhibit the same enthusiasm as his mentor when it came to writing in Kalyan, though he had contributed to its predecessor Marwari Aggarwal. Bajaj wrote only one article for Kalyan on how taking God’s name helped him. Another of Gandhi’s followers, G.D. Birla also did not write for Kalyan despite being close to Poddar and Goyandka. After Gandhi’s assassination, he distanced himself further from Poddar and what Gita Press stood for. In 1958, Poddar asked him for a contribution but G.D. Birla regretted on the ground that he was ‘soon going abroad’. Jugal Kishore Birla was G.D. Birla’s elder brother. After amassing a fortune from opium, gold and silver trades he had relinquished everything and taken to religion, hobnobbing with leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha. A close associate of Poddar in the cow-protection movement and against the Hindu Code Bill, Birla wrote a few articles for Kalyan, including one in the 1950 Hindu Sanskriti Ank that Poddar especially liked. Thanking Birla, Poddar discussed the continuing violence in various parts of the country. ‘Situation in the country is adverse. It is expected to get worse.’ Kalyan’s policy of publishing profiles of saints from Islam and Christianity invited criticism from Jugal Kishore Birla, who would often ask, ‘Does Hinduism not have enough saints that you keep publishing about Islam and Christianity?’
(Excerpted from Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India by Akshaya Mukul, published 2017, Pages 57-59 and 174-175)