The Gandhis on Indian Postage

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Communication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in the Modi administration recently told the nation that the government has decided to discontinue the stamps of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi stating that “[P]ostage stamps should honour leading lights of the nation and not members of one family.”

The Indian Post Office, founded in 1837, issued the first series of postage stamps for sale in October 1854. The stamps had a young image of Queen Victoria of England and were made available in four denominations: ½ anna, 1 anna, 2 annas, and 4 annas.

Since the Queen, many famous faces – some from the same family – have appeared on Indian postage stamps. Also, birds, flowers, instruments, monuments, wildlife, and other things have appeared on stamps as well.

Whom to portray on stamps, when to print and release stamps, how much each stamp should be sold for, etc. are decided by the Indian Postal Service (formerly Indian Post and Telegraph) of the government of India. And before this Modi government, no one in the past 14 governments in 67 years has ever meddled in the IPS’s affairs or removed a stamp from circulation.

Granted the vast majority of public is too busy making a living and does not care about the postage stamps of mother and son: Indira and Rajiv; consequently, the Minister’s decision is not going to improve India or the lives of Indians.

Yet it is difficult to digest the official reasoning behind the removal of the stamps. For there are Indian postage stamps out there, which philatelists could show or sell us, that were issued in the remembrance of each famous member of the same family. Here is an example of two brothers, both actors: Ashok Kumar and Kishor Kumar.

The Minister is saying former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal, Indira, and Rajiv belong to same family – the Nehru family – and so the latter two of three cannot be on the postage stamps. This is like saying actors Shammi Kapoor and Raj Kapoor cannot have postage stamps in their memory because their father-actor Prithviraj Kapoor is already on stamps.

It is hard to tell the real motive behind the decision. Maybe because Narendra Modi and the Nehru family belong to different political parties, or perhaps the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Modi want to erase the Nehru family from the books on India and from memories of Indians.

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