He is a high-caste Hindu, tall for an Indian, wears a starched
white kurta, and speaks with a blend of perfect elucidation and
warmth. At age 12 he literally sat at Mohandas Gandhi's feet for
months. That's because Rajmohan Gandhi is the grandson of Mr.
Gandhi, considered the father of this nation of a billion people,
and a 20th-century icon.
Today, in response to a rise of attacks on Christians here, the
normally low-profile junior Gandhi is countering recent efforts to
use his famous grandfather to partly justify a climate of antipathy
against Christians, the 2 percent minority.
In dozens of pamphlets, articles, reprints, and tracts published
here by right-wing groups, Mohandas Gandhi seems to view
Christianity as a "largely negative" influence in India. In
"Gandhi's Open Challenge to Christians," published by the Vishnu
Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Gujurat, for example, Gandhi characterizes
Christians as caring only about "converting" unsuspecting Hindus to
their faith, and "undermining" India.
Such writings and ideas today have wide circulation among both
leaders and the rank- and-file nationalist groups called the Sangh
Parivar. The literature often presents itself as Gandhi's "real
feelings," which he was too polite to say openly.
According to Rajmohan Gandhi, the pamphlets are an "attack on
Gandhi's legacy -they do not reflect at all the spirit that Gandhi
brought to his relations with Christians.
"These writings are often clever. The same groups opposed Gandhi
strongly, persistently, and with great zeal when he was alive. Yet
Gandhi carried the Hindu masses," says the younger Gandhi, a
philosopher who published a biography of his grandfather, "The Good
Boatman," in 1995. "Now, aware of Gandhi's influence, they want to
use him to fight their battles by tearing his remarks out of
In an interview, Rajmohan Gandhi clarified his grandfather's
position on Christians and missionaries. He stressed the importance
to Gandhi of a sincere friendship with those trying to find larger
truths through their faith -while at the same time pointing out
where he felt Christian fell short of their own ideals.
Did Gandhi harbor serious anti-Christian attitudes?
This needs to be corrected. It is a gross misrepresentation of
Ghandi's thinking. Only two months before he died, at one of his
multireligious prayer meetings where all faiths were invited, he
spoke of a village called Kanhai near Delhi. Roman Catholics were
being attacked -and Gandhi completely condemned it.
In his own life, Gandhi considered Christianity for himself, but
he chose to stay as a Hindu, and he became one of the most famous
Hindus ever. But he was always clear on the need to make one's own
choice. When Ghandi's son embraced Islam, he didn't say it was a
problem. He said I hope he becomes a good Muslim.
We can't understand Gandhi if we don't recognize that individual
conscience was everything to him. Again and again, he said that the
only tyrant he would bend his knee to was the "still, small voice"
How do you feel when Gandhi's writings are used to justify
negative views or even attacks?
Hurt. Disturbed. Was there a Hindu leader of recent decades who
quoted from the Bible more than Gandhi? Was there a Hindu leader of
recent decades who was a better scholar of the Bible? The records
we have of numerous interviews Gandhi had with Christian
missionaries both Indian and Western, Protestant and Catholic -the
dialog was of the most sensitive kind, courteous kind, warm kind.
He was really a friend to the missionaries -unlike these people
who now quote him out of context, or misquote him, misuse him, and
who are hostile to the missionaries and to Christianity. He was
greatly stirred and moved by the lives of many missionaries. …