POST TIME: 20 October, 2019 12:58:35 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 21 October, 2019 10:41:56 AM
Gandhi versus Savarkar
Like Modi, who counts Savarkar as one of the icons, Shah too is an ardent follower of Savarkar
Kumkum Chadha

Gandhi versus Savarkar

The BJP has suddenly woken up to the importance, relevance and significance of  Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar. In fact if there is one name dominating the forthcoming state elections later this month it is Savarkar’s: more relevant for the western state of Maharashtra than the northern state of Haryana or the by-polls in as many as 64 assembly seats in 18 states. The elections are slated for October 21. Therefore Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking up cudgels is in order. During his election campaigns the prime minister spoke about  Savarkar and his  being  “deprived” of India’s highest civilian honour, the ‘Bharat Ratna’. Modi’s remarks followed the decision of the BJP led state government promising in its election manifesto the decision to confer the Bharat Ratna on Savarkar.
“Savarkar was deprived of a Bharat Ratna. It is due to his sanskar (values) that we put nationalism as the basis for nation-building,” PM Modi said. He also took the opportunity to slam the Opposition on grounds that  those who denied Ambedkar the Bharat Ratna were the same people who “abused and insulted” Savarkar “at every opportunity”.

If Modi speaks can his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah be far behind? True to his grain, Shah echoed Modi’s sentiment. Crediting Savarkar for recognising the 1857 mutiny as India’s first freedom struggle, Shah, also the Union Home Minister said: “Had it not been for Veer Savarkar, the 1857 ‘kranti’ (revolt) would not have become history and we would have been seeing it from the British point of view,” he said.

Thanks to Veer Savarkar, India and Indians learnt about the importance of the 1857 Mutiny:

"The Mutiny of 1857 would have remained a revolt as the British had labelled it. It was Veer Savarkar who gave it the name of the first war of independence," said Shah.

On the issue of the Bharat Ratna being conferred upon Veer Savarkar Shah said those opposing it are “playing with nation’s sentiments” and are “committing a sin”.

He also told the media that “People who are arguing with the legacy of Savarkar are playing with the sentiments of the country. They are committing the sin of not letting people take inspiration from Savarkar.”

Shah did not stop here. Referring to Savarkar’s alleged torture in jail after his arrest, Shah said, “There are very few people like Savarkar who are patriots and very few families like Savarkar’s who make sacrifices for the nation. There is no other person in this country who was tortured in jail and forced to extract coconut oil from coir,” the Home Minister said.

“There is no other family in the country in which two brothers stayed in jail for 12 years and did not see each other for that long a duration. There is no other family in the country whose wealth was snatched by the British multiple times,” he added.

Incarcerated by the British during the freedom movement, Savarker spend more than a decade in isolated confinement in the Andaman Island.

Like Modi, who counts Savarkar as one of the icons, Shah too is an ardent follower of Savarkar.  That  is why the demand for a Bharat Ratna for him in a party manifesto well fits in.

Significantly Shah also rued the fact that many national leaders "There are over 200 great leaders, who have not been given their due in history. We should not get into a debate on what has been written but focus on what should be written” Shah said raising the pitch for rewriting history the way BJP would like to. Asking historians to rewrite history “from India’s point of view but without blaming anyone” Shah said that the tendency is to  see history from the standpoint of the Britishers, but it needs to  be re-written, and real facts need to come out.  

 Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, more popular as Veer Sarvarkar was an activist and formulated the concept of ‘Hindutva’, which the BJP swears by. He has written extensively on Hindutva and espoused the concept of Hindu  pride as also endorsed the idea of a Hindu rashtra.

Sent to the notorious Cellular Jail in the Andamans in 1911 for his revolutionary activity, Savarkar first petitioned the British for early release within months of beginning his 50 year sentence. Then again in 1913 and several times till he was finally transferred to a mainland prison in 1921 before his final release in 1924. The burden of his petitions: let me go and I will give up the fight for independence and be loyal to the colonial government: “The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?” he wrote offering  to serve the “government in any capacity” as it thought fit. He declared he no longer believed in violence, justifying his conversion to constitutionalism because of the reforms the British government had introduced.

While Savarkar’s followers dismiss these as a tactical ploy, his critics tell a different story on grounds that after leaving the Andamans Savarkar stayed away from the freedom struggle. Some say that he went as far as actually helping the British with his divisive theory of ‘Hindutva’, which was another form of the Muslim League’s Two Nation theory.

Seen as a controversial figure, Savarkar was charge-sheeted in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but was exonerated for lack of evidence.  Savarkar was given the prefix “Veer” by supporters of the Sangh Parivar. Hell bent on bringing Savarkar centrestage, the BJP leaves no opportunity to eulogize him, the latest being the demand for a Bharat Ratna for him.

That the move has political overtones is a given particularly when elections are on the anvil.

So what is the BJP’s game: for one to undermine the dominance of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which has overshadowed all else and in one sense appropriated both the country’s history and nation’s legacy. Also Savarkar as some others resonate with the electorate in Maharashtra and BJP’s to paint the Congress black because it ignored  icons is likely to help raise the national pitch in its favour particularly among the non-Congress voters. In addition its call to correct history  will also go in its favour . Savarkar may only be a symbol but it could spur a sentiment which the Congress has failed to stir so far.

In fact its vocally opposing the possibility of the national honour has brought the controversy centrestage. Politics is at full play with the Communist Party jumping in stating that

the ruling party may even propose the honour for Mahatma Gandhi's killer Nathuram Godse.  "This is the biggest irony of our times that while we are all celebrating the birth centenary of Gandhi ji, the BJP is seeking Bharat Ratna to Savarkar, who was an accused in his assassination case," CPI general secretary D Raja said in Mumbai. "The day may not be far for BJP to demand Bharat Ratna for Gandhiji's assassin Nathuram Godse. This is part of their agenda," the CPI leader said.

Ditto Congress that said that the government needs to seriously think about the path it wants to take.  

Knives are out as is the milking of symbols, icons and national figures. The Bharat Ratna may or may not come Savarkar’s way but he has been pulled out from the fringes of history and made a viable tool in this election to whip up sentiment.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)