Sandeep Sahu

By Sandeep Sahu

At a time when the whole nation is celebrating the sesquicentennial year of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, the School and Mass Education department of the Odisha government is justifiably drawing flak for rewriting history in respect of what perhaps is the best known event in the life of the Father of the Nation: his assassination at the hands of Nathuram Godse. The last few moments of the Mahatma’s life - the Hindu fanatic pumping in three bullets into the apostle of peace and Gandhiji collapsing with ‘Hey Ram’ on his lips – on the lawns of Birla House in New Delhi on a cold January evening in 1948 has been immortalized in countless accounts, including in Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic ‘Gandhi’ released in 1984 as has been the subsequent sending of the assassin to the gallows after a long trial. At least three generations of Indians have grown up reading about this momentous happening in the nation’s history.

But going by a booklet titled “Ama Bapuji; Eka Jhalak” (“Our Bapuji: A Glimpse”) by the School and Mass Education (SME) department, it is clear that it learnt its history in some school other than the ones the nation studied in. Bapuji’s death, it claims, was an ‘accident’!! There is no mention of the Mahatma’s assassination anywhere in the booklet. After the jaw-dropping claim made in school textbooks in Gujarat that the Mahatma actually ‘committed suicide’, the faux pas by the Odisha SME department must go down as the most outrageous tweaking of history in the country. If anything, this one is even more shocking than the preposterous claim made in Gujarat school text books. After all, Gujarat has been ruled by the BJP which has in its ranks elements who consider Godse a hero, a martyr for the cause of the nation and a 24-carat ‘deshbhakt’! But Odisha has been ruled by a secular dispensation led by Naveen Patnaik, a strong votary of non-violence (so much so that he had demanded the inclusion of the word ‘ahimsa’ in the preamble of the Constitution to mark 150 years of the Mahatma’s birth), for two decades now. How could something like this happen under his rule?

As if the ‘accidental death’ bit was not bad enough, SME minister Samir Dash compounded the folly by trying to rationalize, even defend, something that has been pilloried as much by the intelligentsia as the lay man. “Wasn’t the Mahatma’s death an accident?” the minister quipped when asked about it by a news channel on Tuesday. He then went on to explain that it was meant to keep the word “killing’ away from the tender, vulnerable minds of children! Really, Mr. Minister? If this really was the thinking behind this wanton discretion of history, then you really don’t have a ghost of an idea about what today’s children know, think and have access to. They can certainly give the hare-brained mandarins of your department a run for their money when it comes to such things. In all likelihood, they would perhaps have a hearty laugh when they read that the Mahatma’s death was an ‘accident’. Even the Mahatma may perhaps be fidgeting in his grave at this gross falsification of events surrounding his death.

If this is the way the SME department is paying ‘tribute’ to the Father of the Nation in his sesquicentennial year, other departments of the government are not far behind. On its part, the Excise department has rolled out an ambitious plan to augment its revenues by ushering in a massive expansion of liquor outlets in the state. As part of the efforts, the department would now open temporary liquor vends at fairs in rural areas to make sure the village folk don’t miss out on the fun! The irony could not have been starker. The government headed by the same Naveen Patnaik, who called for the inclusion of ‘ahimsa’, which was an article of faith for the Mahatma, is turning his other important tenet – prohibition – on its head by going for promotion of liquor with a vengeance.

While there seems to be very little chance of the liquor promotion overdrive being rolled back in a hurry, the least the governments can do is to withdraw the lakhs of ‘sanitised’ booklets published without any further delay, even if it means loss of the crores of rupees that have gone into its production, if it wants to save itself – and the state as a whole – any further embarrassment.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)