On his 75th death anniversary, the Mahatma as a marketing tool

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 28, 2023
Screen grab of University of London's boast about its 'notable alumni'

At month’s end, it will be 75 years since Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by Nathuram Godse, a member of the Hindu nationalist paramilitary organisation called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

It’s a decent passage of time and 75 is a nice number for the usual anniversary story, which memorialises, recreates and retells events of the past.

What’s startling is the way the Mahatma is appropriated for marketing purposes.

Just days ago, I saw the University of London’s claim about its “notable alumni”, complete with a big picture of the Mahatma. It does this quite routinely, but it’s worth noting well-known historian Vinay Lal’s observations on this matter.

They are as follows:

“University College London claims Gandhi among its ‘famous alumni’ on its website [www.ucl.ac.uk], and it is conceivable that university records will show that Gandhi took classes at UCL…

“UCL left such little impression on Gandhi that he nowhere mentions it in his own autobiography, which down to the present day remains the most authoritative source of information about Gandhi’s years in London. Gandhi’s most notable biographers, for instance D. G. Tendulkar, Robert Payne, B. R. Nanda, and Geoffrey Ashe, make no mention of University College London, and it is striking that the short chapter on Gandhi’s London years in Nanda’s biography dwells exclusively on Gandhi’s friendships with vegetarians, theosophists, and other dissenters.  About the time that Gandhi left London, he published in the Vegetarian (20 June 1891) an article where he felt bound to admit that in his stay of three years many things had been left unaccomplished.  Nonetheless, added Gandhi, “I carry one great consolation with me that I shall go back without having taken either meat or wine, and that I know from personal experience that there are so many vegetarians”  (quoted on pp. 30-31).  In this respect, Nanda is only following the cues offered by Gandhi himself:  as he left London, Gandhi could not be bothered to recount his experiences at the University of London”.

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