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Restore photos at Gandhi Smriti: Modi govt must stop trying to change facts of Bapu’s murder

Gandhi Smriti is a memorial for a man for whom simplicity was a religion, let his story be told simply. Restore Cartier-Bresson’s photographs, they show facts.

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I visited Gandhi Smriti in New Delhi Thursday, and, as is my ritual, went to the spot of Bapu’s assassination to pay my respect. I went inside the building, formerly known as the Birla House, to look at the display of enlarged photographs of the aftermath of Bapu’s murder and funeral, shot by the legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. He had gifted these photographs to the Gandhi Smriti and they were prominently displayed on the walls of the lobbies.

I was horrified to find all the photographs missing and replaced by cold, dark TV screens displaying random images with no captions and reduced sizes. It took away the ethos of the warm sepia prints that artistically portrayed the events. I was hurt and then angered to know that this had been done on the orders of higher-ups – PM Narendra Modi had supposedly suggested it after his visit in November. This was unacceptable to me and I immediately tweeted my response on yet another desecration of Gandhi Smriti.

Over the years, many alterations, unnecessary ones, have erased the events that happened at the Birla House.

The first alteration was done immediately after the failed attempt on Bapu’s life on 20 January 1948, when the damage caused by the bomb explosion was repaired. Gandhi was staying at the Birla House and conducting his meetings when a grenade was hurled at the crowd. The repair then was understandable because it was still the home of the Birla family. But after the house was purchased and turned into a memorial, many unnecessary changes were made, which slowly started erasing historical incidents that took place there.

Visitors today, sadly, don’t get to know about Bapu’s last fast and the failed attempt on his life on 20 January.

Also read: Indian liberals must reconsider their rejection of Mahatma Gandhi

Cartier-Bresson photographed a grief-stricken nation

The sepia enlargements displayed in Gandhi Smriti were done by Cartier-Bresson himself and were of high quality and photographic merit. All of them together explained the historic events that occurred there in January 1948.

One image showed Bapu’s body lying with rose petals showered on him and the sheet covering him folded back to display the three bullet wounds on his chest. His son Devadas Gandhi described these bullet wounds as medals of honour for a nonviolent soldier. There was a photo of Bapu’s body being carried up the stairs to be displayed on a balcony on the first floor facing the street so that the large sea of people who had gathered could see their Bapu and bid him goodbye.

The photographs showed Bapu’s watch stopped at 5:17 – the time of his murder, the gun used to murder him, a bullet recovered from the gun and his blood-stained clothes.

There were poignant photographs of the funeral litter and the funeral procession winding through Delhi streets and millions of people thronging the road, walking with the procession, some hanging from trees, electric poles and even from the King George V Memorial near India Gate.

Cartier-Bresson had photographed a grief-stricken nation, tear-streaked faces and the funeral, the last prayers offered by Bapu’s close disciples standing around the pyre. There were images of ministers and dignitaries sitting on the ground near the funeral pyre, including the Mountbatten family. The lit pyre, flames leaping up to the skies, mounted guards of the governor-general around the pyre, preventing people from getting dangerously close. Cartier-Bresson had captured Jawaharlal Nehru standing on a stool and imploring the multitude to sit down, and making his historic ‘The light has gone out of our lives…’ speech.

Together, these images and their captions explained the history and gave a very detailed and emotional description to the visitors. One panel gave the eye-witness account of American journalist Robert Trumbull, who was present at Birla House that fateful January evening. He was one of the first to inform the world about the attack on Bapu.

Also read: Why Gandhi and Ambedkar never engaged with Hedgewar, the founder of RSS

Stop desecrating Gandhi Smriti

Removing these panels felt like a conspiracy to dilute and erase the evidence of the assassination of Gandhi by those whose ideology had allowed such a tragedy. I could not remain quiet.

A concerted campaign has been carried out to spread misinformation regarding the facts about Bapu’s murder right up to a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a re-investigation on the basis of false information and fabricated evidence. The conspiracy is so vile that they have even tried to portray the murder as a suicide. A school in Gujarat asked its students to write on how Gandhi had committed suicide. It is an attempt to confuse people about history that is inconvenient to the Modi government.

The Modi government and the director of Gandhi Smriti, Dipankar Shri Gyan, explained the removal of images as part of a ‘digitisation’ project being implemented at Gandhi Smriti. It is a dishonest excuse. It is a transparent attempt at obscuring history.

The historic print panels must be restored at Gandhi Smriti. The digital panels have stolen the ethos of the artistic displays and the soul of the place. Those evocative, almost-speaking images must be put back up – every one of them – and the digital monstrosities removed.

Gandhi Smriti is a memorial to a man for whom simplicity was a religion – let his story be told in a simple, dignified manner. The Modi government must restore Gandhi Smriti to its earlier prestige and stop the attempts to desecrate it.

The author is the great-grandson of MK Gandhi. Views are personal. 

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  1. Demand for restoration of pictures is reasonable,the conspiracy theory is problematic. The writer as an anglophile seems a victim of the stickholm syndrome.There is repeated reverential reference to the foriegn photographer,the vestigial representative of the Raj ,the mountbattens and then the well meaning pampered brat of the last phase of freedom struggle who decided to speak to his countrymen in the greatest hour of joy (tryst with destiny) and greatest hour of loss( light has gone out of our lives) in a language which only the masters and their henchmen understood. To imagine that missing photos in a museum will remove what is etched through living memory and testimonies of thousands is exaggerated. As for the genetic testimonial for authentication of the author I may submit that my mother too was amongst the million of faceless foot soldiers of the great Mahatma and was present in the prarthna Sabha a day before he was assassinated. . People who shamelessly allowed big institutions bof learning to be named after poorly educated grandchildren of a prime minister and constantly underplayed the fact that many people who left Congress to form other vparties were not necessarily religious bigots but people who resented undemocratic dynastic feudal culture taking over the broad based feature of the Congress up to the 30’s.

  2. It is a way of turning history into BJPs favor.
    If the photos remain there, generations to come will ask about the murder, answer of which will further require more answers like who murdered and why murdered. And answers of these questions would never be given without bringing RSS and Nathuram.
    So finally in order to separate RSS and Gandhi’s murder, our PM has installed digital screens. So there would be no photographs of chest with three bullets and no questions either.

  3. Why did Gandhi went on hunger strike every time Hindu Genocide happened in East and west? Why he wanted to share money when Pakistan attacked in Kashmir? Why Gandhi always protected Muslims and hated Hindus? Why so much love for Gandhi when Hindus slaughtered by muslims in millions? Why this post will not be approved by ‘The Print’ editors who wants free trips to Pakistan on the name of protecting Muslims?

    • After reading regularly reading articles published in this platform, I strongly believe that ThePrint is nothing but another version of BBC UK. BBC was is and will be the first and foremost publication to print anti-India stories in every possible digital platforms.

      Coming to the Gandhi, it is high time for India to leave Gandhi’s legacy behind. With due respect to Gandhi’s role as a freedom fighter if Hitler hadn’t bombed UK the way he bombed we could have still British rule. Ever after heavy loss in every possible manner due to this bombardment (1943) they still tried there level best not to leave India. (1947)

  4. Don’t worry Sir. Those who remember him, will do so, without those photographs. Those who don’t, hardly care. Therefore, it’s unnecessary to even talk about these people as they feel proud of their every nonsense deed.

  5. Here is another Gandhi blatantly cashing in on Gandhi!! We see enough of Gandhi on our notes and have no wish to see more of him. What would be really nice to know are the following:

    1. Why did Gandhi reject Sardar Patel as PM of Bharat, despite all the Congress State Committees voting him in to lead Bharat? So why was Nehru made PM! ?

    2. Why did Gandhi agree to the formation of Pakistan?

    3. Why did he start the completely communal Khilaphat movement?

    4. Why was Subhash Chandra Bose forced to resign by Gandhi?

    5. Why did he not plead with the British to stop Bhagat Singh’s hanging?

    It would really help if we can have some clear and honest answers to these questions

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