Joseph Lelyveld's Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India is the latest book the Maharashtra government has decided to ban in spite of having faced charges of suppressing freedom of expression in the past.
On Tuesday, the government said it would take steps to ban the book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor of The New York Times.
Although the book has not yet been released in India, reviews published in the media have created a controversy over description of the Mahatma as a ‘racist' and ‘bisexual'.
Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, who was in Pune on Tuesday, said: “The book denigrates the national pride and leadership. We will not tolerate this. We will consider prohibiting the book.”
However, the Mahatma's great-grandson Tushar Gandhi has opposed the ban.
“If the government of Maharashtra bans the book, it will be a greater insult to Bapu than that book or the author might have intended. I will challenge the ban,” Mr. Gandhi tweeted.
Pointing out that he was against the culture of banning books, Mr. Gandhi said: “How does it matter if the Mahatma was straight, gay or bisexual? Every time he would still be the man who led India to freedom.”
Shrinking liberal space
Banning books is not new in Maharashtra, where civil society has criticised the shrinking liberal space.
In 2004, the government banned Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, written by the American author James Laine, under pressure from pro-Maratha outfits.
The book had controversial references to Shivaji's biological father.
The ban, however, was overruled by the Supreme Court, which in July 2010, upheld the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
However, under pressure from various organisations, the government went ahead with its plan, ensuring that the publisher, Oxford University Press (OUP), did not bring out the book in the market.
Succumbing to pressure
The same year, succumbing to pressure from the Shiv Sena youth wing, Mumbai University dropped Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey from its syllabus, alleging that the book contained remarks derogatory to Maharashtrians. Even then, the State government had criticised of being a mute spectator to the incident.