The Telegraph
Friday , April 21 , 2017

Mahatma versus Mahatma

- Political muscle flexing over Champaran centenary events

Two Gandhis: Bhojnandan Prasad Singh

Patna, April 20: Mahatma Gandhi was thrown off a train by Mahatma Gandhi while yet another Mahatma Gandhi regaled the chief minister as Bihar celebrated the centenary of Bapu's Champaran Satyagraha.

If that sounds confusing, let us rewind a bit to the chain of events that led to political muscle flexing over the icon of peace.

The Muzaffarpur district administration had made elaborate arrangements to replicate Gandhi's arrival on April 10, 1917, his stay at advocate Gaya Prasad's home, and his onward journey to Motihari.

Tirhut divisional commissioner Atul Prasad had chosen Bhojnandan Prasad Singh, a retired professor of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Bihar University, to play the Mahatma. All was fine until Bhojnandan, sporting a Kathiawadi turban as the original Mahatma did, arrived at the station from LS College on a horse-driven cart to catch a special train for Motihari on April 15.

At the station, Bhojnandan came to know that he had been replaced by Rajendra Singh Rathore, a Delhi-based actor, who had been picked by Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh to play Gandhi on the journey to Motihari.

Rajendra Singh Rathore at Muzaffarpur station on April 15. Pictures by Ajit Kumar Verma

Aides of the Union minister, who is also the East Champaran MP, insisted that the railways belonged to the Centre and it would be Rathore who would be boarding the decked-up "Champaran Satyagrah Smriti Special Train".

The Muzaffarpur officials were left shell-shocked.

"It was a joke on Mahatma Gandhi," remarked professor Arun Kumar, chairman of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Muzaffarpur. "The attire worn by Rathore was the Mahatma Gandhi of 1921 when he started wearing only dhoti and moved with a lathi in his hand. The Mahatma Gandhi who arrived in Muzaffarpur 100 years ago sported the Kathiawadi turban."

Such minor historical errors not withstanding, Rathore boarded the special train on platform number one around 1pm with a host of BJP leaders, including Muzaffarpur district BJP president Ram Surat Rai, MLAs Baby Kumari, Veena Devi Devi and Suresh Sharma seeing him off. BJP supporters stopped and welcomed the train at several places.

Rathore was received at Motihari station around 3pm by Radha Mohan Singh with full "honours".

To placate his supporters who were also angry and were creating a scene, Bhojnandan - who retired as a head of department of history - made a symbolic journey on a regular train, getting down soon after the train left the platform and reverting to his usual daily clothes.

"I am deeply hurt. Everybody tried to hijack the event," said Bhojnandan, who is also chairman of the Bharatiya Itihas Congress. "We had been rehearsing every scene for the past several weeks and tried to recreate the events in the best possible manner. We were a bit shocked after we came to know about another man donning the role of Gandhi."

RJD MLC Satish Kumar was more vocal, and declared: "It is an insult to the Great Mahatma (the original) who fought not only for the cause of the indigo cultivators of Champaran region but also liberated the country from the shackles of British rule."

Repeated attempts to contact the Union agriculture minister proved futile.

Gandhi No. 3

In Motihari on April 18, Patna-based theatre actor Adil Raseed played the Mahatma as chief minister Nitish Kumar, deputy chief minister Tejashwi Prasad and ministers Madan Mohan Jha and Ashok Choudhary watched a play re-enacting Gandhi's run-in with the British administration of Champaran. The re-enactment of the court scene left the ministers engrossed.

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