Book on Gandhi Stirs Passion in India

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GANDHI is still so revered in India that a book about him that few Indians have read and that hasn’t even been published in this country has been banned in one state and may yet be banned nationwide.

The problem, say those who have fanned the flames of popular outrage this week, is that the book suggests that the father of modern India was bisexual.

The book’s author, Joseph Lelyveld, does write extensively about the close relationship Mohandas K. Gandhi had with a German architect, but he denies that the book, “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India,” makes any such argument.

In an interview Mr. Lelyveld, a former executive editor of The New York Times and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, said he thought he had “treaded very carefully” with the information, which he knew was delicate....

The crux of the controversy seems to be the intersection of two subjects on which Indians have strong views: sexuality and Gandhi.

On the first point India is quite conservative, but the recent rapid growth of its economy has helped loosen attitudes, especially among the large youth population. In 2009 the Delhi High Court struck down a British-era law against sodomy, a ruling seen as a watershed for gay rights. Nevertheless most gay Indians would not feel comfortable coming out.

On the second, Gandhi is revered even by the young, but there is little significant understanding of the nuances of his philosophy and life. He has been mostly reduced to an idol. Young Indians don’t spend much time studying him. And many of his ideas, like the development of small-scale village industries, have faded....

The controversy appears to have started because of reviews in publications in the United States and Britain, including one in The Wall Street Journal, asserting that the book provides evidence that Gandhi was “a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist.”

That review, by Andrew Roberts, a British historian, argued that Gandhi was in love with Hermann Kallenbach, the German-Jewish architect with whom Gandhi lived in Johannesburg, and it cited letters from Gandhi to Mr. Kallenbach, which are quoted in “Great Soul.”...

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