Bharat Ratna for Veer Savarkar: Ahead of Maharashtra polls, BJP yet again pitches nationalism by invoking Hindutva proponent

  • The BJP is clearly attempting to co-opt Savarkar's legacy from the Shiv Sena ahead of the Assembly elections

  • Savarkar's critics deride him for the mercy petitions he authored while serving time, the first of which came barely a month into his jail stint

  • AIMIM chief Asadduddin Owaisi also slammed the demand as he took to Twitter to criticise Savarkar

Ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections scheduled for 21 October, the BJP state unit has vowed to ask the party-led NDA government at the Centre to confer the Bharat Ratna on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar if it is re-elected. The promise to confer India's highest civilian honour on Savarkar — who formulated the theory of Hindutva in the 1920s and was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha — who the BJP admires as a national icon, is just the saffron party's latest gambit to expand its expand its nationalism by invoking the proponent of Hindutva ideology.

 Bharat Ratna for Veer Savarkar: Ahead of Maharashtra polls, BJP yet again pitches nationalism by invoking Hindutva proponent

File image of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. News18

In Maharashtra, where Savarkar has been glorified as a freedom fighter by the Shiv Sena, the BJP is clearly attempting to co-opt his legacy from its  junior ally ahead of the Assembly elections.

As per a report in The Indian Express,  the motivation behind the move is the BJP's desire to keep its vice-like grip on Hindutva. "Neither the BJP nor the RSS want any other organisation — be it political or non-political — to share this space of Hindutva ideology politics," the report noted. "...this move — Bharat Ratna for Savarkar — would please the Shiv Sainiks while placating the RSS and BJP followers of Savarkar. Moreover, it’s also a move for the BJP to elevate its ideologues to the status of national icons."

From the margins to mainstream

Savarkar was given the prefix “Veer” by supporters of the Sangh Parivar.  The project to take Savarkar from a figure at the margins of history to the mainstream by the BJP leadership began in earnest in 2002, when his portrait was hung in Parliament, as per a column in Outlook.

"In May that year, Advani went to the Andamans to rename Port Blair airport the Veer Savarkar airport.The NDA government also installed a plaque in his honour inside the cellular jail," the column noted. "Symbols, names, religious imagery and iconography are the tools of the trade of Hindu nationalists. Through a deft manoeuvring of history and imagery, leaders of the Hindu right are engaged in an enterprise to give legitimacy to their icons."

As per a column in Livemint, the BJP's undermining of Nehru is accompanied by an interest in Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar and Savarkar. "The Bharatiya Janata Party’s pioneers and icons are all borrowed from the freedom struggle, with the party compelled to appropriate leaders who aren’t called Nehru or Gandhi. And embellish the roles of some whose contribution to the freedom struggle was limited, if not questionable," the column noted.

"Savarkar’s vision of Hindutva has found followers in post-Babri Masjid India, mostly with a generation of Indians who have no memory of the freedom struggle and are curious about a past in which the Nehru-Gandhi family does not disproportionately dominate the narrative."

Indeed, Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday stressed on the need to rewrite history from India's point of view, saying the First War of Independence in 1857 would have been regarded as a revolt had it not been for Savarkar. "It was Savarkar who gave the name 'First War of Independence' to the 1857 'kranti' otherwise our children would have known it as a revolt," he said.

Referring to eminent historians in the audience and on the dais, he said, "It is my request to all that there is a need to rewrite the Indian history from India's point of view but without blaming anyone." "It is our responsibility to write our history. How long are we going to blame the British? We don't have to dispute anyone, only write what is truth and it will stand the test of time," the Union home minister said.

A controversial legacy

Savarkar's legacy has been the subject of much controversy. Though Savarkar was let off due to lack of evidence after being named as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, those at the top believed him culpable.

As then Union home minister Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru: “I have kept myself almost in daily touch with the progress of the investigation regarding Bapu’s assassination case.” It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that “[hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through.”

"There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy," Patel later wrote to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a member of the Cabinet, who succeeded Savarkar as president of the Hindu Mahasabha.

In 1969, a Commission of Inquiry set up on 22 March, 1965, comprising a respected Supreme Court Justice JK Kapur, concluded after a thorough probe: “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”

His bodyguard Apte Ramchandra Kasar, and secretary Gajanan Vishnu Damle testified before the commission, which noted: “...All this shows that people who were subsequently involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi were all congregating some time or the other at Savarkar Sadan and sometimes had long interviews with Savarkar. It is significant that Karkare and Madanlal visited Savarkar before they left for Delhi and Apte and Godse visited him both before the bomb was thrown and also before the murder was committed and on each occasion they had long interviews. It is specially to be noticed that Godse and Apte were with him at public meetings held at various places in the years 1946, 1947 and 1948.”

Savarkar's proponents point to the time he spent in the infamous Cellular Jail on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands after being tried and convicted for supplying a pistol used to assassinate the then Nashik collector in 1909, but his critics deride him for the mercy petitions he authored while serving time, the first of which came barely a month into his jail stint.

Savarkar concluded his second mercy petition by confessing that he was misguided into taking the revolutionary road because of the “excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907” and assured the British of his conscientious conversion. “[I]f the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me,” he wrote, “I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of… loyalty to the English government.”

Opposition slams BJP

The Congress on Wednesday sought to know by the saffron outfit is not seeking the country's highest civilian award for Mahatma Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse. Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said the BJP-led
government needs to seriously think about the path it wants to take on the issue in the 150th year of Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.

"Savarkar? Why not Mr Godse, after all Mr Savarkar was only an accused in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and Mr Godse  was convicted. So, therefore, in the 150th year of Mahatma Gandhi's birth, if the NDA-BJP government is going to honour somebody who was tried for Mahatma Gandhi's assassination...and ultimately in 1969, when the Kapur commission was set up it found that possibly, he (Savarkar)and some of his other
colleagues had prior knowledge of the events that took place on 30 January, 1948," Tewari said. "And If all that is correct then government needs to seriously think as to what path they are going."

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asadduddin Owaisi also slammed the demand as he took to Twitter to criticise Savarkar. Tagging a media report on Maharashtra BJP's demand of Bharat Ratna for Savarkar, Owaisi said on Twitter: "Some gyaan about this Anmol Ratan: 1. Implicated by Jeevan Lal Commission of Inquiry on Gandhi's assassination. 2. Advocated the use of rape as a political tool. 3. Criticised Shivaji for not using rape as a political tool. 4. Called himself the British's 'most obedient servant'."

The Communist Party of India said 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.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Oct 17, 2019 19:46:18 IST