In the last few weeks, there has been a concerted attempt by journalists close to the BJP to rewrite Gita Press’s relationship with Mahatma Gandhi. But like the larger attempt to rewrite Indian history, it is based on half-truths, obfuscations and pure mischief.
Anant Vijay, a senior journalist with Dainik Jagran and author of Dynasty to Democracy: The Untold Story of Smriti Irani’s Triumph, in his column on July 16 wrote that the January 1948 issue of Kalyan (‘Nari Ank’) was ready when the news of assassination of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a member of the RSS, came.
Nari Ank had already been dispatched, but in the few issues that were still left, three pages mourning Gandhi’s killing were attached. Anant reproduces those pages.
Nari Ank remains one of the most popular annual issues of Kalyan which has been in constant reprint since 1948. Ideally, those three pages should have been part of subsequent reprints. I consulted Nari Ank reprinted in 2002 which has no mention of Gandhi’s killing. Also missing are those three pages which the likes of Anant are tom-toming as a proof of Gita Press’s deep love for Gandhi.
Anant cooks up a bizarre reason for the absence of these pages from later editions. He says it is ‘samanya prakriya’ (common practice) of the publishing industry to leave out references to contemporary events. If anything, it is not ‘samanya’, but the most asamanya prakriya (uncommon practice) and never happens in the publishing industry. As a published author, he should know, but then, bhakti has its limitations.
I would like to challenge Anant to show me one issue of Kalyan which has left out certain things since they are no longer relevant. Have the reprints of Hindu Sankriti Ank (January 1950), a very popular number of Kalyan, stopped referring to the death of RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar? No, it has not. Then why leave out Gandhi from later editions of Nari Ank?
It proves what I maintain throughout my book; Hanuman Prasad Poddar (Kalyan’s editor) and Gita Press had an intimate relationship with Gandhi that went sour on ideological grounds.
Also, Gita Press was not only about bhakti (devotion), gyan (knowledge) and vairagya (renunciation), but it was a crucial cog in the wheel of Hindu nationalism.
If Gita Press was so much in love with Gandhi, it should have devoted an entire issue to him, just as it did for Madan Mohan Malaviya in 1946. Gita Press is opposed to vyakti puja (individual worship), but the only time it made an exception was for Malaviya, a hardcore Hindu nationalist from the Congress. This explains their ideological preference.
It is laughable how Anant relies on a fig leaf of three pages but refuses to engage with deeper issues. He does not talk of how Poddar and Jaydayal Goyandka were among thousands who were apprehended on suspicion for involvement in Gandhi murder.
Neither does he mention G.D. Birla’s refusal to help Poddar and Goyandka come out of jail. Birla succinctly called Poddar-Goyandka votaries of ‘shaitan dharma and not sanatan dharma’.
With both founders in jail, it is possible these three pages were glued to a few issues of Nari Ank to show their deep love for Gandhi. Even RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar, who was in Madras, sent frantic telegrams to Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Devdas Gandhi condemning Gandhi’s assassination on the evening of the murder.
Now, it has been squarely proved by Dhirendra K. Jha’s Gandhi’s Assassin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and his Idea of India (2021) that the killer Godse was from the RSS.
For Anant, it is also not important that Gita Press was opposed to temple-entry for Dalits and how this issue caused a major fracture in the Gita Press-Gandhi relationship. Anant would also not know that when a big sex scandal took place in Gobind Bhavan, Gita Press’ headquarters in Calcutta, it was Gandhi who came to their rescue.
It will help Anant if he goes through the pages of Hindu Panch and Chand to see for himself how Gandhi helped. He should spend time in the archives rather than rely on poor evidence doled out by Gita Press.
Journalism and Dainik Jagran
On July 16, when Anant Vijay’s half-baked column appeared, I immediately contacted Sanjay Gupta, the newspaper’s CEO; Vishnu Prakash Tripathi, editor; and Rajiv Sachan, editor, edit page.
I requested them to publish my rejoinder, a common practice in journalism. For hours there was no response. Later in the day, Sachan sent a message that someone from Jagran will contact me.
On July 17, a call came from Arun Srivastava, senior editor in the features department, asking me what my objections were. I explained to him in detail. He sounded convinced and promised to get back.
He did not call the next day.
On July 19, I called Srivastava, who said, “There is [a] lack of unanimity in [the] office about publishing the rejoinder.” In the 24 years of my career as a journalist, this is the first time I heard something like this.
Again, I sent another set of messages to Gupta, Tripathi and Sachan. Like on the first day, Gupta and Tripathi did not bother to reply. Sachan sent a cryptic one liner, “You should talk to Mr Sanjay Gupta.”
On July 20, hours after the piece was sent to The Wire, Sachan sent a message asking for my response in 400 to 500 words. We spoke.
He said Anant will respond to my rejoinder. I requested that I also be allowed to write. Sachan said it is not possible. He also said the paper plays back the edited version only if something is added, not otherwise.
I decided to stay with The Wire.
Akshaya Mukul is a Delhi-based journalist and author of Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India.