For a World of Peace and Nonviolence!

Comment by Tridib suhrud

Truth as politics


Narayan Desai in his recent biography of Gandhiji Maru Jivan Ej Mari Vani (My Life Is My Message) repeatedly reminds us of the quality of 'servant co-workers' that gathered around Gandhiji. Henry Polak, Herman Kallenbach, Maganlal Gandhi, Imam Saheb Abdul Kadar Bavazir, Mahadev Desai, Pyarelal, Swami Anand, Kakasaheb Kalelkar, Narhari Parikh, Kishorlal Mashruwala, Miraben and many others like them were men and women of exceptional qualities and virtues. They were thinkers and servants of people. My personal journey to Gandhiji was also mediated by Swami Anand, Kakasaheb, Mahadevbhai, Kishorlal and Prabhudas Gandhi. It was through their Gujarati writings that I found my way to Gandhiji.


It was much later that I discovered Professor K. Swaminathan, Professor C.N. Patel and Chandulal Bhagubhai Dalal. They were the finest archivists and chroniclers of the life and letters of Gandhiji. As I went deeper into the CWMG (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi) and the archives of the Sabarmati Ashram, a sense of deep gratitude defined my relationship with these 'ancestors'. They and others like them were moved by a conviction that so long as human beings aspire to be guided by truth, compassion and love, Gandhiji, like other great teachers of humankind before him, would remain relevant as an exemplar.


During the last one year I have been engaged in the English translation of Narayan Desai's biography of Gandhiji. It was only then that I came to understand the true worth of the CWMG. The CWMG project was commenced in 1956. The Government of India decided to create an advisory board and vested all control and direction of the project in the board. Morarji Desai was the chairman of the board and at various points the following individuals worked as members: Kakasaheb Kalelkar, Devdas Gandhi, Pyarelal, Maganbhai Desai, G. Ramachandran, Shriman Narayan, Jivanji P. Desai, P.M. Lad, R.R. Diwakar, Ramdhari Sinha 'Dinkar' and Shantilal Shah.


The task before the editors of the CWMG was immense. Gandhiji's papers were scattered over mainly three countries - South Africa, India and England, in government files, newspaper offices and individual collections as also in diaries of his associates like Mahadev Desai. He wrote primarily in three languages: Gujarati, English and Hindi. From 1956 to 1959, Dr. Bhartan Kumarappa and Jairamdas Doulatram worked as the chief editors of the project. In February 1960 a man who was equally comfortable with the European literary and philosophical traditions, Sanskrit poetics and Tamil literature as well as the ashram of Shri Raman Maharshi, Professor K. Swaminathan was appointed the chief editor. He continued to work on the project till his eyesight failed him in his early '90s.


A project that was conceived in 1956 was closed in 1994 with the publication of the 100th volume. Men such as U.R. Rao, R.K. Prabhu and C.N. Patel assisted Swaminathan. It was decided that the CWMG would be published in three languages - Gujarati, English and Hindi. The Gujarati version was prepared by the Navajivan Trust while the Publications Division of the Ministry of I&B, GOI, was responsible for the publication of the Hindi and English versions.


The editors and the advisory board decided on three guiding principles: (a) the aim of the series would be to reproduce Gandhiji's actual words, (b) reports of his speeches, interviews and conversation in indirect speech would be included when they were proved to be authentic beyond doubt, and (c) since later research was likely to lead to discovery of more material - like the Gandhi-Kallenbach correspondence - it would be published as supplementary volumes. Of the 100, volumes 1-90 reproduced Gandhiji's writings, speeches, letters, interviews and notes in a chronological order; volumes 91-97 were the so-called supplementary volumes which dealt with material that had become available later; and volumes 98-100 contained index of subjects, index of persons and a volume containing prefaces to the set. The CWMG has come to be recognised as one of the finest examples of editorial and translation work world over. At least two generations of Gandhi scholars have expressed their indebtedness to those who gave their lives to the CWMG project.


I, like many others, had until recently taken the enduring authenticity of the CWMG for granted. The GOI in 1998 decided to re-edit the English and Hindi versions of the CWMG. The exercise was aimed at bringing in uniformity, strict chronology and authenticity. Uniformity meant that all volumes ought to be of the same size - 500 pages each! Chronology required that all the material of the supplementary volumes be incorporated in its appropriate chronological order. The publisher's note in the revised edition of 2001 has this to say about authenticity: 'The objective of the series is to reproduce Gandhiji's actual words as far as possible; reports of his speeches, interviews, conversations which did not seem to be authentic have been avoided, as also reports of his statements in indirect form.' (Emphasis added.) The exercise thus involved a process of re-authentication and therefore subsequent deletion of material 'which did not seem authentic.' It also involved a process of realigning the material from supplementary volumes. The exercise, which began in 1998, resulted in publication of a revised edition of 100 volumes of CWMG both in English and Hindi. A CD-ROM version was also prepared.


It was in April this year that a colleague - who wishes to remain anonymous - brought to our notice the discrepancies between the original and the revised version of 2001. Thus began the slow process of comparing the two versions. We soon realised that there were not two but three versions - the original CWMG, the revised print edition and the CD-ROM, which was based on the revised edition. There are about 500 entries deleted from the CD-ROM version, all of which may not be inauthentic as about 215 are included in the print edition.


The entire exercise is deeply flawed. One of the aims of the revised version was to incorporate the material from the supplementary volumes in their strictly chronological place. We have found that from Vols. 91-97 of the original CWMG, 97 entries are missing, most of which form part of Gandhi-Kallenbach and Gandhi-Polak correspondence. Their authenticity is beyond doubt, and they are now part of the National Archives.


We are not told who the new editors were or who was part of the advisory board, not if any measures were adopted to re-ascertain the authenticity of the deleted material. There is no listing of entries that have been thus removed. In the re-editing process the prefaces to each volumes became redundant, which have been removed. In lieu of the prefaces the new editors have incorporated a publishers' note, which too is unsigned. The list of contents between the original and the revised entries do not match in a large number of cases. That is, the same entry is listed in both under different titles.


As we gained a certain measure of control over our disbelief, anger and pain, we began to slowly find our way through the chaos. Many questions came to us and were posed to us. What was the politics of the exercise? What were the reasons for the secrecy surrounding the exercise? What would a process of recovery and reinstatement involve?


Clearly the decision to re-edit the CWMG could not have been taken at the lower echelons of the bureaucracy. But was it a 'political' decision, motivated by malice and a desire to rewrite Gandhiana? It would have been easy and in some ways expedient to attribute this to a deep political conspiracy. We constantly reminded ourselves that our quest was to restore the dignity and sanctity of the original CWMG; it was an exercise in truth. We were also convinced of the inviolable relationship between means and ends and the purity of both.


As weeks passed, conviction grew that what we could prove beyond any doubt was that the re-editing process was pedestrian, unthinking, mindlessly bureaucratic and smacked of illiteracy. This is borne out by the nature of entries omitted and the manner in which the content headings have been altered. What continues to baffle us is the desire of the new editors and the advisory board to remain anonymous. Self-effacement can be a virtue, but it also must be accompanied by the ability and the willingness to accept responsibility.


We also realised that the process of recovery and reinstatement was not a worthwhile exercise. A process of recovery would require at least three stages. One, to ascertain the entries that have been omitted from both the print and the electronic version; two, checking the entries in all the three versions against their subject headings; and three, to verify the contents of all 46,000 entries. It is possible that the new editors might have been inclined to 'improve' Gandhiji's prose or even render the translations with greater accuracy. This exercise, however rewarding, is completely unnecessary at this juncture.


The only way to reinstate the CWMG to its former self is to declare the revised edition and the CD-ROM as null and void and reinstate the original edition. We must also ensure that no future dispensation shall open up the question of re-editing the CWMG.


The search for meaning and truth of a text is a hermeneutic process, involving a deep faith in the fidelity of the text. We have demonstrated in the last decade or so our capacity and enthusiasm for rewriting history and altering structures of memory and memorialising. This process seeks to place all events and memories in the realm of the political. Politics might be our Yugadharma but truth and meaning cannot always be contained by the political. We need to resist those tendencies which seek to render truth as politics.



Tridip Suhrud