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UP: Civil Society Critical of Centre's Decision to Award Gandhi Peace Prize to Gita Press

Historians and intellectuals question the rationale of giving an award named after Gandhi to an institution that opposed everything that he stood for.
Gandhi Peace Prize conferred to Gita Press, Gorakhpur

"Giving an award in the name of Gandhi to someone who has always had ideological differences with Gandhi is a cruel joke." | Image courtesy: Gita Press

Lucknow: A debate has started after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre decided to award the Gandhi Peace Prize for 2021 to Gita Press from Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur. 

Noted historians, social activists and intellectuals opposed the decision, citing that Gita Press' founder Jaydayal Goyandka and its magazine Kalyan's founder-editor Hanuman Prasad Poddar were among the 25,000 people arrested after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in 1948. 

Former Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University, Prof. Roop Rekha Verma, speaking with NewsClick, said, "Giving Gandhi Peace Prize to those suspected in the assassination of Gandhi is against constitutional values. The height of the Modi government's hypocrisy and double standard can be gauged that on the one hand, BJP calls Gandhi the father of the nation and started Swachh Bharat Abhiyan while making him an icon, but on the other hand, his government is giving honour to the people allegedly involved in his assassination ." 

Verma further claimed Gita Press was responsible for some of the most rabidly communal, casteist and anti-women discourse.

"In connection with a project, I have read multiple books from some fundamentalist publishing houses, in which Gita Press also had some books. Most of the books of Gita Press are anti-women, anti-dalit and talk about Manusmriti. It is the misfortune of the country to give honour to such publishing houses and their editors." 

Professor Heramb Chaturvedi, who teaches history at Allahabad University, said that Mahatma Gandhi had been close to the founders of the Press as well as Poddar — the founder-editor of its magazine Kalyan after Poddar helped him and took care of Gandhi's son Devdas who was languishing in Gorakhpur jail, but they developed differences on untouchability of dalits, temple entry and BR Ambedkar. 

"Giving an award in the name of Gandhi to someone who has always had ideological differences with Gandhi is a cruel joke," he told Newsclick.

Chaturvedi further said that Kalyan magazine never carried a single article on Gandhi even after he died, as Poddar has always opposed Gandhi and his ideology. 

"Poddar's reaction towards dalits and tribals eating meat was unacceptable, and his magazine always criticised them," he added.

In a media release on Sunday, the Union culture ministry said that the "jury headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had selected Gorakhpur-based Gita Press for the award in recognition of its outstanding contribution towards social, economic and political transformation through non-violent and other Gandhian methods."

Gita Press, established in 1923, is reportedly one of the world's largest publishers, having sold 41.7 crore copies in 14 languages, including 16.21 crore copies of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. The institution has never relied on advertisement in its publications for revenue generation.

Virendra Yadav, Hindi writer and critic, told NewsClick, "The Gandhi Peace Prize should be given to that person or institution, which has been in favour of Gandhi's ideas and ideals, but Poddar and his magazine has always opposed his freedom struggle, principles and ideas, be it untouchability or the Hindu caste system. Besides, Poddar was a member of Hindu Mahasabha and was arrested in connection with the assassination of Gandhi."

The writer said the Gita Press always propagated the Hindu caste system and believed in untouchability, and Gandhi had always opposed all these. 

"Gandhi would practice Hinduism and believe in humanist Hinduism, and the Gita Press has always published provocation and rabid Hinduism. Therefore, our protest is how can a person or institution who always opposed his ideology and had differences with him deserve the Gandhi peace prize," Yadav added.

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