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January 16, 1998


Tushar Gandhi takes the plunge into politics

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Mahatma Gandhi's great-grandson plunged into politics on Friday when he formally joined Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party. The SP declared him its nominee for the Bombay North West Lok Sabha seat, currently held by the Shiv Sena's Madhukar Sarpotdar.

Tushar Gandhi, 37, is the son of US-based Professor Arun Gandhi, whose father Mani Lal was the Mahatma's third son.

Asked what prompted him to take to politics, Tushar told Rediff On The NeT that it was a simmering desire to fight the killers of his great-grandfather, "who I now see in the form of the ruling Shiv Sena-BJP combine in Maharashtra."

Tushar has taken on almost anyone who has made derogatory remarks about his ancestor, be it Sena chief Bal Thackeray, television personality Nikki Bedi or gay activist Ashok Row Kavi. "Perhaps," he says, "because, unlike Bapuji, I don't believe in offering the other cheek after being slapped on one."

Attired in a fawn khadi kurta and white pyjamas he was the centre of attraction at the SP headquarters on Friday afternoon. He says he joined the party because he saw in the SP the potential to deal with the menace of communalism.

A computer buff, he is also working on a web site on Mahatma Gandhi and his contribution to India's freedom.

He attributed his induction to pressure from film actor/ politician Raj Babbar, himself a SP Rajya Sabha member and the party's candidate against BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lucknow during the last general election. "Talks have been going on between me and the Samajwadi Party for nearly a month," he admitted.

Asked why he did not join the Congress, the party his great-grandfather nurtured and which played a key role in the Indian freedom movement, he quipped that one Gandhi family already heads that party. More seriously, denying that he had ever tried to join the Congress, he said, "What I saw in the Samajwadi Party was a leader from the grassroots, something that is absent in the Congress."

However, he said he did not expect the Congress to die out. But he felt it badly needed someone to revive the party.

Asked about Sonia Gandhi's entry into politics, he clarified he did not think her to be a foreign influence. "She has done the right thing by making her entry before the election, but her impact will be visible only at the end of the election," he said.

Tushar drew international attention last year when, after a prolonged court battle, he recovered an urn containing the Mahatma's ashes from a State Bank of India vault in Orissa. He later brought the urn to Allahabad for immersion in the Ganga. He was then cold-shouldered by every party including the Congress, whose leaders suspected a political ploy behind his sudden emergence.

He is the second member of the Mahatma's family to try his luck at the hustings, the first being his uncle Rajmohan Gandhi who was fielded by the Janata Dal against Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi in 1989. He was defeated and became a Rajya Sabha member before disappearing from the political stage.

Says Tushar, "What I have on top of my agenda are the multifarious problems faced by Bombay today, particularly those relating to slum-dwellers." He says he has some reason for expecting to win. According to him, the Shiv Sena won the seat in 1996 because the Congress and SP stood divided. "This time I am quite hopeful of getting Congress support," he said.

He has no plans for a protracted election campaign. "I neither have the resources nor the inclination for a big campaign; I believe in simplicity and I am sure that alone will see me through," he said.

Asked how he hoped to survive in the money-driven world of manipulative politics, he shot back, "Survival is not of paramount importance to me. I believe in doing my bit. I am pretty sure this manipulative politics is only a passing phase and will soon come to an end."

Why is the Nobel Peace Prize committee ignoring the Mahatma?

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