Amid the huge controversy over the Congress’ remark against Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the party, on Sunday, categorically said that it will continue to speak “the truth” about the icon hailed by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Hitting out at the BJP, senior Congressman Jairam Ramesh said that the Congress will continue to drag down Savarkar and other right-wing leaders until the rival party stops lying about Congress leaders.
“Let’s not debate on this matter. The day the BJP and RSS stop speaking lies about our leaders, we will stop telling the truth about their leaders,” said the Congress communication chief.
Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole also came out in support of Rahul Gandhi, who recently made a remark against Savarkar over his mercy petition to the British, saying that his party wants an ideological debate in the country and wants to unite people. Patole said that Rahul Gandhi’s statement on Savarkar’s mercy petition is based on recorded history, which was written by the RSS leader from jail. He also asked that those targeting Rahul must clarify why Savarkar was getting a pension of Rs 60 from the British Raj.
“Rahul Gandhi was only explaining the two legacies – while Birsa Munda (tribal leader) rejected the allurements given by the British and preferred to die, Savarkar sought mercy,” said Patole in his media briefing on Sunday.
The controversy over the issue erupted soon after Rahul Gandhi strategically brought up Savarkar as his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ entered Maharashtra last week. During a press conference in Maharashtra’s Washim, the Congress leader tried to corner the BJP and the RSS in the name of Savarkar amid the ongoing political campaigns in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly polls.
Comparing the tribal icon Birsa Munda’s life with that of Savarkar, Gandhi said that while the Hindutva leader wrote a mercy petition to British rulers from jail, on the other hand, the tribal leader faced death without losing his pride.
“Bhagwan Birsa Munda was martyred at the age of 24. Despite the British offering him land, he refused to bow down and chose death. We, as the Congress party, consider him as our idol. For BJP and RSS, Savarkarji, who wrote mercy petitions to the British and accepted pension, is an idol. That’s the difference between us and the BJP,” said Rahul Gandhi on the birth anniversary of Birsa Munda.
The Congress leader’s statement has stirred a huge political storm in many BJP-ruled states. The Eknath Shinde government and the Uddhav Thackeray Shiv Sena faction leader Sanjay Raut also criticised Rahul Gandhi’s statement. Raut said that such a statement towards Veer Savarkar can create a rift in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance in the state.
State union minister and BJP leader Raosaheb Danve also hit out at the Congress over Rahul Gandhi’s remark, demanding that the Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena must break ties with the Congress. The minister further said that Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray was one of the leaders spreading the message of ‘Swatantryaveer Savarkar’ across Maharashtra, and now his son and grandson are sitting with a party that “insults” a freedom fighter.
It is said that the Hindutva leader Savarkar, who was a Maharashtrian, was one of the closest friends of Bal Thackeray’s father, avid reformer and activist Keshav Thackeray.
Danve said that such statements have come from a person who does not know the history or the great personality of Savarkar, whose ideology the BJP accepts and follows.
Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis also reacted to Rahul Gandhi’s statements saying that the party will not keep quiet till it buries the ideology that insults Savarkar. “Rahul Gandhi says Savarkar was jailed for 3-4 years. But is there a Congressman who has suffered pain like Savarkar did for 11 years? Before independence, Savarkar endured pain from the British and after independence, Congress is targeting him,” he said at an event in Mumbai.
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma also criticised the Congress, and said that those who have made no contribution to the country have no right to question its freedom fighters. “Savarkar spent many years in jail. Those who are questioning what he had done for the country… It is a sin to question Savarkar’s contribution. Rahul Gandhi should not do this,” he said.
Amid this political firestorm, the Congress headquarters was vandalised last week on Friday by some BJP leaders in Pune. The BJP claimed that it was retaliation after Congress leaders posted a banner with the word “maafiveer” (mercy seeker) at the VD Savarkar Smarak at Swargate.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray faction) and National Congress Party (NCP) leaders staged protests in Pune on Monday, over “insulting” remarks against Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, allegedly made by Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi.
The protests erupted after Trivedi, during a news debate on Savarkar’s mercy petition, said that the Maratha king had also apologised to Mughal dictator Aurangzeb several times. Governor Koshyari was attacked by Maharashtra’s opposition leaders for comparing Chhatrapati Shivaji to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. Koshyari, at an event, had said that if Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was an icon of the olden times, then BR Ambedkar and Nitin Gadkari were the icons of modern times.
The protesters demanded that Koshyari be removed as governor, and condemned the BJP for keeping quiet on the issue.