"My book only has an unusual view of Gandhi as a social reformist. I mean to be provocative but not offensive"

Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar had a lot in common but they could seldom stand each other, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Joseph Lelyveld said in Mumbai on Thursday.

“Borrowing from Joseph Conrad, they both could be called the secret sharers,” he said during a discussion on ‘Gandhi and the struggling subcontinent” organised by the Asia Society.

Mr. Lelyveld is the author of Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India.

“Gandhi was a more divided and complicated man. If India has a social conscience today, which I believe it does, it can be called Gandhian,” he said.

Describing the Mahatma as a man of paradox, Mr. Lelyveld said: “His truth became [an] obstacle to progress, to difficult negotiations and negotiation with his followers. He would say his inner voice has asked him to do something. This was a very crippling approach to political life.”

Rejecting Rajmohan Gandhi's criticism of his book, who called it ‘cynical,' Mr. Lelyveld said the book only had an unusual view of Gandhi as a social reformist. “I mean to be provocative but not offensive.”

Gandhi was “always a ‘work-in-progress' right till the end. At one point Gandhi, who hated and resisted religious conversion and interfaith marriages, said in his ashram in 1946 ‘only those marriages are permitted which are marriages between Hindus and Muslims.”

He said that Gandhi was deeply upset when he saw in Bihar during Independence that Hindus butchered Muslims with the cry, “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai.” The Mahatma later described Independence as a sad affair.

Mr. Lelyveld's book investigates the formative years Gandhi spent in South Africa and the struggle he faced with his home country on his return, as India continued to revere him even as it rejected values he considered central to his mission.

Mr. Lelyveld said he would not have liked to cover Gandhi from close quarters as a journalist.

“You may have written down exactly what he had said, but he would still ostracise you for writing something he did not mean.”

He said that Gandhi's attitude to questions of journalists, who were not exactly reverent of him, was flippant and disrespectful.

Ranjit Hoskote, cultural theorist, poet and art critic, engaged Mr. Lelyveld in a conversation after his talk.

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