Does Tushar Gandhi have a point? It did seem like it in June 2005, when Handi-Gandhi, a New South Wales company sold beef curry with Bapu’s face on it and Tushar urged Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh to make the Australian government intervene. But the rest of the time? It’s hard to tell if Tushar Gandhi is for real or living off his great-grandfather’s name, having tried and failed at other livelihoods.
His latest cri du coeur is a new book on Bapu’s murder, called Let’s Kill Gandhi, released on the 59th anniversary of his assassination, on January 30. Its hottest point? There were many murder conspiracies against Bapu earlier. That’s new?
Tushar nods a firm Capricornian head. Born 47 years ago on a train between Mumbai and Kolkata, he’s the son of US-based former journalist Arun Gandhi, whose father was Bapu’s third son, Manilal. Tushar has lived in the Mumbai suburb of Santa Cruz all his life, studying at Adarsh Vinay Mandir, a local Gujarati-medium school. A one-year spell in Mithibai College, where he “attempted to do science” led instead to a diploma in printing, which parlayed into becoming an agent between small publishers and presses.
Nothing really worked out. But, he says cheerfully, his luck turned in 1985, when he married fellow-Gujarati Sonal, who holds a steady job with the Bank of Baroda. A 15-year-old son, Vivan (named from the Sanskrit ‘Vivasyavan’, meaning the ‘glory of the sun’) and a 14-year-old daughter, Kasturi, named after her great-great-grandmother, the stoic Kasturba, now live in Santa Cruz, too.
Tushar is merely one of 54 descendants of the Mahatma and his uncles and aunts, be they social activists, governors, occasional philosophers or writers, are generally considered more ‘representative’ of the Legacy.
Tushar’s own Gandhi Foundation seems to have a one-point agenda of restoring Kasturba’s old home in
Porbander. In 1998, he joined the Samajwadi Party but switched to the Congress in 1995, always having taken care to speak well of Sonia Gandhi. In July 2001, he famously wrote to Pervez Musharraf to stop harbouring the D Company.
In December 2001 he tied up with the American marketing firm CMG Worldwide to use the Mahatma’s image in a film advertisement for a credit card company. Tushar says he did it to “protect the misuse of Bapu’s image abroad,” but the public outcry against commercialising the Father of the Nation made him cancel. In March 2005, he led the highly publicised 75th anniversary re-enactment of the Dandi March.
What next? The Gandhian Guide to Vegetarianism? Tushar grins. “Thank God nobody’s made a cookbook of Bapu’s recipes. He drank this horrible gruel of saltless boiled karela!” He’s all right, you think. But alas, his mobile ringtone turns out to be Vaishnava janato.