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Row after PM Modi links Mahatma Gandhi legacy to film

By, New Delhi
May 30, 2024 06:31 AM IST

Richard Attenborough’s film, Gandhi, received international acclaim. It won eight Academy Awards in 1983

No one knew of Mahatma Gandhi globally before a film on the father of the nation was made, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a possible reference to 1982 British biopic by Richard Attenborough, sparking a political controversy.

In a television interview aired on Tuesday, Modi blamed his predecessors for ignoring India’s cultural heritage and not leveraging Gandhi’s legacy. (ANI)
In a television interview aired on Tuesday, Modi blamed his predecessors for ignoring India’s cultural heritage and not leveraging Gandhi’s legacy. (ANI)

In a television interview aired on Tuesday, Modi blamed his predecessors for ignoring India’s cultural heritage and not leveraging Gandhi’s legacy.

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“Mahatma Gandhi was a noble soul of the world. Was it not our responsibility that in these 75 years people in the world know about Gandhi? No one knew about Gandhi. When the Gandhi film was made, for the first time there was curiosity in the world about him,” he told ABP news.

“The job of this country was that if the world knew of Martin Luther King, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, then Gandhi was in no way less than them. I am saying this after travelling across the world,” he added.

To be sure, both the American civil rights icon, who was killed in 1968, and the South African anti-Apartheid crusader, who started his agitation in 1952, publicly declared Gandhi to be their inspiration.

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“Gandhi and because of him, India should have got the leverage. Today, Gandhi is part of the solution to many global problems, but we didn’t do it. We have lost out on a lot,” Modi said.

Richard Attenborough’s film, Gandhi, received international acclaim. It won eight Academy Awards in 1983, including best actor for Ben Kingsley who portrayed Gandhi on screen, and best director and best picture for Attenborough. The movie also won five BAFTA awards.

Modi’s comments sparked a political row.

“Mahatma Gandhi is the sun that gave strength to the whole world to fight against darkness.In the form of truth and non-violence, Bapu showed the world a path that gives courage to even the weakest person to stand up against injustice,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in a video shot in front of the famous Dandi march statue on Delhi’s Mother Teresa Crescent road.

“People whose world views are shaped up in shakhas (RSS branches), they will not be able to understand Gandhi ji. They can understand (Nathuram) Godse and adopt the path shown by Godse. Gandhi ji was an inspiration for the entire world. Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein… they all got inspired by Gandhi.”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge accused Modi of lying.

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“Those whose ideological ancestors were involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi along with Nathuram Godse, can never follow the path of truth given by Bapu. Now the lie is going to pick up its bag and go away,” he said in a post on X. Godse, right-wing activist, shot Gandhi dead on January 30, 1948.

Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury also condemned the remark.

“It’s shocking to hear PM Modi’s claim that the world only learned about Mahatma Gandhi after the 1982 film ‘Gandhi’. Father of the Nation, Gandhi never needed anybody to promote his unparalleled legacy as a symbol of peace and non-violence! Before Modi was born Gandhi was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace prize! He was never awarded as India was a colony under Pax Britannica!”he said.

Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi contested the PM’s claims.

“When Bapu visited England for the Round Table Conference. (American actor) Sir Charles Chaplin requested to meet Bapu and Went to Kingsley Hall to meet Bapu. Don’t believe me search for the photographs and Videos. This was much before Sir Richard Attenborough started making films,” he said on X, tagging the prime minister’s official account.

Experts also underlined that Gandhi’s global legacy was established long before the 1982 movie.

Associate professor at Gandhi Research Foundation, Ashwin Zala, said that though movies helped people, especially the young, connect with Gandhi, his ideals had an impact on people beyond India’s borders.

“The movie was shot in 1982, the statement doesn’t have a ground reality. Gandhi’s ahimsa [non violence] was studied by more than 90 countries and championed human rights, justice, and achieved freedom on the basis of Gandhi’s ideals...Before the release of the movie, more than 100 countries had released postal stamps, coins, statues on Gandhi.”

Trinamool Congress MP Sagarika Ghose quipped on X, “Nobody knew about #MahatmaGandhi until Richard Attenborough made a film, says @narendramodi. Not surprising. Those obsessed with Nathuram Godse naturally don’t know anything about Gandhi.”

The BJP did not official comment on the matter.

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