Kerala Bureaucrat’s Book Fuelling Nehru Controversies?

Last week, media was abuzz with reports of ‘mischievous’ edits to Jawaharlal Nehru’s Wikipedia pages from a government IP address belonging to the National Informatics Centre (NIC). Nehru was born in a brothel in Allahabad; his grandfather was a Muslim by name of Ghiasuddin Ghazi who later changed his name to Gangadhar – these, along with salacious bits about his “affair” with Edwina Mountbatten, were some of the revisions made to Nehru’s Wikipedia pages. While the suspicion fell squarely on the Hindutva brigade and its alleged ‘dirty tricks department’, as it were, how credible are the stories, and where did they come from?

M O Mathai, a bureaucrat from Kerala and special assistant to Nehru from 1946 to 1959, may well be accountable for a few of the yarns doing the rounds. At least some of the unsubstantiated stories and anecdotes – a quick search throws up many such in cyberspace – including those regarding Nehru’s alleged sexual dalliances, can be attributed to Mathai’s book Reminiscences of the Nehru Age. Mathai was, in all probability, privy to a lot of information not in the public domain and witness to happenings behind closed doors.
Mathai Book
Critics, however, are dismissive of Mathai’s book. General consensus, at its release in 1978, was that the book courted controversy just to push up sales. According to historian Prof. Irfan Habib, “Mathai’s is a book which no one can take seriously. It’s not the kind of book which can be considered for any academic merit.”

In this instance, the edits were soon deleted by volunteer editors of the online encyclopaedia; however, there are several blogs and websites peddling more conspiracy theories, “facts” and “truth about Nehru” but largely lacking any credibility or documentary evidence. Whether it is seen as an onslaught on Nehru’s good name by people with an agenda or as pandering to the abiding curiosity of Indian public about the relationships of the former Prime Minister, Mathai’s writings are finding a new lease of life.