Monday, June 24, 2024

The fight over Savarkar’s legacy

BJP Mahila Morcha supporters wearing masks of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar take part in a rally in Nagpur on April 4, 2023.

BJP Mahila Morcha supporters wearing masks of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar take part in a rally in Nagpur on April 4, 2023.
| Photo Credit: ANI

The controversy surrounding the legacy of Hindutva demagogue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, one of the most divisive figures in Indian politics, has reignited a heated debate in Maharashtra. The latest round of controversy was yet again sparked by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on March 25, a day after his disqualification as a Lok Sabha member, when he said: “My name is not Savarkar. My name is Gandhi. And Gandhis don’t apologise.”

The remark triggered a political firestorm in the State with the ruling Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine trying to exploit the issue to offset criticisms over the former’s disqualification. The alliance launched a five-day ‘Savarkar Gaurav Yatra’ to push the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) to the edge. The MVA is a coalition of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde also questioned Uddhav Thackeray’s stance on the Savarkar issue and his party’s commitment to the Hindutva, daring him to walk out of the MVA.

While the ruling party was quick to latch on to the issue, the Savarkar controversy has become a sore spot in the relationship between the Uddhav faction of the Shiv Sena and the Congress.

Mr. Gandhi has often accused Savarkar of “apologising” to the British to get out of the Cellular jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

During his rally at Malegaon, Mr. Thackeray sharply upbraided Mr. Gandhi over his remarks on Savarkar, asserting that his party regarded Savarkar as “a deity”. “While we have come together in this fight [against the BJP] to save the Constitution and democracy, Savarkar is our deity and we will not tolerate any insult to him,” Mr. Thackeray said.

His party’s decision to skip the Opposition meeting hosted by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, and the absence of Maharashtra Congress unit chief Nana Patole during the MVA rally at Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar (formerly Aurangabad) on Sunday, underscore the rift within allies.

On the same day, the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance launched the Savarkar Gaurav Yatra.

Pawar to the rescue

Slamming Congress leaders, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that the Congress party, except for Feroze Gandhi (the grandfather of Rahul Gandhi), had opposed a congratulatory motion moved for Savarkar post-Independence in Parliament by a member from West Bengal.

In an attempt to defuse tension, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar tried to broker peace between the Congress and the Uddhav faction of the Shiv Sena and advised them to concentrate on the main goal — fighting the BJP at both State and national levels.

Mr. Pawar tried to find a middle ground while promoting his own pro-Savarkar stance. He advised the Congress leaders that the Savarkar issue should not be raked up unnecessarily as any adverse comments on the freedom fighter do not augur well for the alliance. “During the meeting, Mr. Pawar reminded the Congress leaders how sensitive the Savakar issue is, and strictly asked them to refrain from remarks that would antagonise one another and people of Maharashtra at large,” a senior leader who attended the meeting at Mr. Kharge’s residence said.

Even the Maharashtra Congress is worried about the repercussions of Mr. Gandhi’s remarks. “At ground level, we are facing the consequences of his comments. People of Maharashtra worship Savarkar, we have already made it very clear to Mr. Gandhi,” a senior Congress leader said.

The Opposition questioned the BJP for remaining silent when former Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari made controversial remarks on Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and B.R. Ambedkar. “Why were they silent? It is all about diverting attention. Now, the BJP wants to divert the attention of people from Adani issue, unemployment and inflation,” he said.

Meanwhile, NCP leader Ajit Pawar has taken a different stance from the Congress and asked the BJP to confer the Bharat Ratna to Savarkar. He asked why the BJP hasn’t conferred the Bharat Ratna to the controversial leader.

Ultimately, the Savarkar issue has permeated into all corners of political beliefs in the State, burning the cauldron of divisive politics by further widening the chasm between political parties and leaders, leaving a road to nowhere.

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