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Gopalkrishna Gandhi: Soft-spoken, but speaks his mind

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-07-2017 A Staff Writer

New Delhi: At a time when Singur town in West Bengal was engulfed in protests over the acquisition of land for Tata group’s proposed car factory in 2008, a soft-spoken man stepped in to bring calm among implacable political foes.

West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s intervention came in the middle of an incendiary atmosphere but he did succeed in sitting chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee across the table. There were times when the talks were on the verge of collapsing, but Gandhi’s mediation ensured the crisis was resolved.

“Gandhi played a neutral role at a very crucial phase in West Bengal’s history. He tried to resolve the issue peacefully, while hearing out both the sides patiently, which then was the only way for the deadlock to end,” Amiya K. Chaudhuri, a West Bengal-based political analyst, said on Tuesday.

Gandhi, 71, who started his career as a civil servant with the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1968, has been named as the opposition’s vice-presidential candidate. Eighteen parties have decided to field the former diplomat and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

Although soft-spoken, Gandhi has not shied away from speaking his mind on many burning issues. In 2014 he said the Central Bureau of Investigation was “seen as the government’s hatchet, rather than honesty’s ally”. And on 19 May 2014, just three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic win, Gandhi wrote an open letter to him saying: “India’s minorities are not a segment of India, they are an infusion in the main. Anyone can burn rope to cinder, no one can take the twist out of it. Bharat mata ki jai, sure, Mr. Modi, but not superseding the compelling urgency of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s clarion— Jai Hind!”

Next year, in an interview to India Today, Gandhi criticized incidents of mob lynching saying, “I would like to assure that Akhlaq’s death will not go in vain, his death will remind us that violence cannot achieve anything.”

Gandhi, who is currently professor of history and politics at Ashoka University, did his Masters in English literature from St. Stephens College, Delhi University, and joined the IAS in 1968. After an illustrious career, he took voluntary retirement in 1992. As a senior civil servant, Gandhi was secretary to the vice-president from 1985 to 1987, joint secretary to the President from 1987 to 1992 and—after leaving the service—secretary to President from 1997 to 2000.

Gandhi has also held a number of senior diplomatic posts. In 1992 he took up a prestigious assignment as the first director of the Nehru Centre of Indian art and culture in London. At the end of the tenure, he was posted as India’s high commissioner to South Africa in 1996. After returning to India to take up his bureaucratic assignment in Rashtrapati Bhavan, Gandhi was sent on three more top diplomatic assignments—as high commissioner to Sri Lanka in 2000, and ambassador of India to Norway and Iceland in 2002. He was appointed governor of West Bengal in 2004.

Gandhi has also authored a novel (Refuge) and a play in verse (Dara Shukoh), apart from several other books like Gandhi and South Africa, Koi Acchha-Sa Ladka (translation into Hindi of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy), Gandhi and Sri Lanka, Nehru and Sri Lanka, and India House, Colombo­ Portrait of a Residence.

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