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Photo of Narendra Modi at the Spinning Wheel Invokes Gandhi, and Some Cry Blasphemy


Mahatma Gandhi with his spinning wheel in 1925. Credit Rühe/Ullstein Bild, via Getty Images

NEW DELHI — It is an image familiar to every Indian — an icon in an iconic pose.

Mohandas K. Gandhi, the father of independent India, sits at a spinning wheel producing cotton thread — a simple but potent symbol protesting the purchase of British textiles and British rule.

Gandhi has long been associated with the homespun cloth known as khadi, as well as with a lesser-known publication: a calendar sent annually to the employees of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, a government body set up to promote the fabric.


A photo from a calendar sent out to employees of a government body set up to promote khadi, the hand-spun fabric which Gandhi famously wore, shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a spinning wheel in a pose that recalls a famous one of Gandhi. Credit Khadi Village Industries Commission

This year, however, the bespectacled leader sitting at a spinning wheel on the calendar’s cover was not Gandhi, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India.

The prime minister’s opponents were outraged and equated Mr. Modi’s cover photo with blasphemy. Dozens of commission employees staged a protest against the calendar on Thursday, according to The Press Trust of India.

“Khadi & Gandhiji are symbols of our history, self-reliance & struggle. Removing Gandhiji’s photo is a sacrilegious sin,” Randeep Surjewala, a spokesman for the Indian National Congress party, wrote, using an honorific with Gandhi’s name, in a Twitter post.

“Gandhiji is the Father of the Nation. Modi ji what???” Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Commission executives said there was no policy that mandated Gandhi appear on every calendar, and six publications since 1996 have not included his image.

“There is no policy for mandatory use of a photograph of Mahatma Gandhiji on the calendar,” said V.K. Saxena, the commission’s chairman, in a statement on Friday.

Mr. Modi “emulating the father of the nation is an unmistakable image of dedication to the core national values,” he said in the statement, adding that because of Mr. Modi’s work to promote khadi, sales of the textile had increased by a third from 2015 to 2016.

“Just by posing, nobody can become a worshiper of khadi,” said Tushar Gandhi, the leader’s great-grandson, in a televised interview. Gandhi “spun his own yarn and got his garments stitched of the cloth made from the same. That khadi was different.”

Mr. Modi’s pose on the other hand, said the younger Mr. Gandhi, was “a mere photo op.”

Source: NYT > World

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