Ceremony turns to farce as wind steals Gandhi's `forgotten' ashes

It was difficult to know whether to feel blessed or horrified. The ritual immersion of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi in the River Ganges was proceeding smoothly, when suddenly the wind changed; and we were inhaling the Mahatma.

The flotilla of motorboats carrying family, officials and ashes had arrived early at the pontoon, moored mid-river. The truck carrying them through the city to Sarawati Ghat had moved swiftly past thin crowds lining the route of their procession. At centre stage was Gandhi's great grandson, Tushar Arun Gandhi, who had fought a two-year legal battle for possession of the ashes, which had been misplaced in a bank vault in the eastern state of Orissa 47 years earlier.

Instructed by a Hindu priest amid the chanting of Vedic mantras, Tushar Gandhi had poured so much milk and water into the urn that those watching expected its contents to be almost entirely liquid.

Initially they were, then came a great dusty cascade, pouring forth and billowing up from the surface of the water, enveloping the chosen few invited to witness the "historic" spectacle.

It was the farcical end to a saga which had never seemed quite real.

From the beginning, doubts about the authenticity of the ashes, and Tushar Gandhi's motives, persisted.

"If these are truly Gandhiji's last remains, why has the Prime Minister not come? Where is the President of India?" asked Sunit Dyas, 66, who described himself as a "freedom fighter" and who blamed bungling by the authorities for the small turnout.

In February 1948, several million people attended similar ceremonies across India when Gandhi's ashes were dispersed after his assassination by a Hindu extremist and cremation at Raj Gat in Delhi.

Officials at the State Bank of India's Cuttack branch, where one of the urns was deposited in 1950 and forgotten, swear the ashes are genuine, and Tushar Gandhi responds with contempt to suggestions that he has used his famous relative's remains to build himself a political profile.

"They [the critics] can wait and watch," he told The Independent on arrival in Allahabad after a 19-hour train journey accompanying the ashes from Orissa.

"I have not sunk so low that I would use an occasion like this for personal gratification or enhancement ... in our religion this is supposed to be a very sacred duty to perform, and getting a chance to do this almost 50 years after his [the Mahatma's] death is a miracle."

Speaking from New Delhi, Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma, supported Tushar Gandhi's actions.

"He read in a newspaper that the ashes had been found, and thought something should be done," he said. "A fairly natural reaction I would have thought."

The fact that Mahatma Gandhi was a married man, whose wife Kasturba gave him four sons, is news to many in the West, brought up to believe India's most famous independence campaigner was a total ascetic. Another common misconception is that former Indian Prime Ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi - assassinated in 1984 and 1991 respectively - were his descendants. They were not related.

If Tushar Gandhi is trying to use his great grandfather's reputation to build popular support he may find it an uphill battle.

While Gandhian ideals may have inspired such figures as Martin Luther King Jnr and Nelson Mandela, here they are associated with the Congress Party, which last year recorded its lowest ever vote in a national election.

"[Gandhi] is the presiding deity of a system that negates every conviction he stood for," wrote Vandita Mishra in the English-language daily The Pioneer. "He keeps alive for us a faith we have ourselves long [since] surrendered."

The Congress Party, which was founded in this city more than a century ago, managed to organise a rowdy mob to welcome Tushar Gandhi to Allahabad Junction railway station, largely for the benefit of the television cameras.

But though the Mahatma's lofty ideals of self-sacrifice and non-violence may have less currency in an increasingly materialist India, his methods remain popular.

This week's events coincided with a fast-unto-death by an academic at Allahabad University, Dr Ram Shastri, in protest against violence by students.

Fasting was one of Gandhi's favourite methods for achieving harmony between Hindus and Muslims, and equality for Untouchables and low caste Hindus.

The immersion of the ashes closes the circle on Gandhi's long association with this city of 1 million people, once known as the "Oxford of the East" for its manicured gardens and famous university, but which now lacks even a domestic airline service.

Yet certainty that Mahatma Gandhi can truly rest in peace depends on whether there are other hidden relics tucked away in corners of India.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own