Discussing with historian Ramachandra Guha on “Gandhi and Bengal” at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet here on Tuesday, the former Governor said Gandhi’s two most important appellations — ‘Mahatma’ (by Rabindranath Tagore) and ‘Father of the Nation’ (by Bose) — both came from Bengal.
“Both these monikers came to him from Bengal, and from two persons with whom he had most serious differences in Bengal,” he said.
“It shows that the relationship was frank and friendly… Gandhi saw Tagore as a complete human being…
“He saw Subhas Chandra Bose as Bose would have liked him to see him as — a person of extraordinary energy and fervour, and one, who is not to be trifled with.
“Tagore and Bose did not want to be detached from Gandhi. They wanted to be with Gandhi…,” Gopalkrishna Gandhi said.
One cannot extricate Bengal from the story of Gandhi just as one cannot extricate Gujarat from the life of Gandhi, he added.
Gandhi came to the eastern metropolis Calcutta for the first time in 1896 and he was given a “cold reception”, Gandhi’s biographer Guha said, adding that Bengal was the province of India that had a complicated, ambivalent, antagonistic relationship with the Father of the Nation.
The former Governor also said that the state did not accept Gandhi “unidimensionally”. It gave him respect and certain amount of indulgence but it did not let him go intellectually unquestioned.
“It questioned him throughout. Gandhi was up to this questioning. He reciprocated by holding his own… He neither understated nor overstated differences.
“There was frankness and a very mutual frankness between Bengal and Gandhi. I think Bengal deserved nothing less and Gandhi deserved nothing less.”
Referring to Bose’s Indian National Army, Guha said when he (Bose) took over the INA, the brigades were called “Gandhi brigade”, “Nehru brigade” and “Azad Brigade” and INA was exemplary in its inter communal harmony. “This is important in the current context,” he said.
According to Gandhi’s grandson, there is still contrarian view regardless of Mahatma’s great work in Bengal, of profound affection many Bengalis had for him, of the intellectual and moral shaping of his world view by Bengalis.
“Today, you could say that it is his native province, Gujarat that has rejected Gandhi much more emphatically than any other part of India…
“For a historian, the relationship (between Bengal and Gandhi) become so much more interesting because it is not simply adoration. It has complexity and argument,” he added.