Rahul Gandhi’s comment claiming Savarkar had apologised to the British government also irked Shiv Sena Uddhav Thackeray faction, but the Congress soon realised the faux pas and managed to mollify its ally in Maharashtra before the row could escalate further, writes Amit Agnihotri
A huge political controversy erupted over VD Savarkar’s mercy petition before the British government after former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi targeted the BJP icon.
The problem started during the Maharashtra leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra when the Congress leader slammed Savarkar at an event in Washim to pay tribute to Tribal leader Birsa Munda. “Despite the British offering him land, (Birsa Munda) refused to bow down; he chose death. We, the Congress party, consider him our idol. For the BJP and RSS, Savarkarji, who wrote mercy petitions to the British and accepted pension, is an idol,” said Rahul.
A few days later while addressing a press conference in Buldhana, Rahul faced a query over his remarks on Savarkar.
In his reply, Rahul read out from Savarkar’s letter and accused the BJP icon of betraying freedom movement stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who too had been sent to jail by the British but never apologised.
“I am very clear that he helped the British. Savarkar signed this letter whereas Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel remained in prison for years…did not write any letter. I believe Savarkarji signed this letter because of fear,” the Congress leader said.
Rahul, who had targeted Savarkar in 2020 as well, again provoked the BJP, which launched an attack on him. VD Savarkar’s grandson Ranjit Savarkar lodged an FIR against the former Congress chief, even as Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi joined Rahul’s yatra.
In the process, Rahul’s remarks also irked the grand old party’s ally Shiv Sena Uddhav Thackeray faction, which said that it would not tolerate any disregard to Savarkar and threatened that the incident could impact the regional party’s alliance with the grand old party.
Shiv Sena Uddhav Thackeray spokesperson Sanjay Raut said that Savarkar was a hero for his party and they will continue to idolise him.
“Our party chief Uddhav Thackeray made it clear that we love, admire and have immense faith in Savarkar. We, therefore, do not agree with Rahul Gandhi’s views,” he said.
“What Rahul Gandhi said about Veer Savarkar will cause cracks in the MVA alliance,” Raut said, adding “The MVA would not collapse. It would certainly cause bitterness… there will be cracks in our alliance which is not a good sign.”
Shiv Sena used to be an old ally of the BJP but Udhhav Thackeray opted out of the alliance in 2019 and joined hands with the NCP and the Congress to form a coalition.
The MVA government was defeated in a trust vote five months ago when Sena rebel Eknath Shinde became the chief minister with the help of BJP which named Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy.
Though Raut was critical of Rahul on the Savarkar issue, he also noted that as the Bharat Jodo Yatra was attracting public response and uniting people, there was no need for the Congress leader to rake up the issue.
Raut further targeted the BJP saying that while the Sena had been demanding a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar for long, it was the BJP at the Centre which was delaying the national award.
Later, the Sena Uddhav faction and the Congress patched up after Rahul and party leader Jairam Ramesh spoke to Raut over the phone.
“We agreed to disagree. The MVA is doing fine,” said Ramesh.
“In spite of strong differences of opinion on some issues, inquiring with your political colleague is a sign of humanity!” Raut said in a Twitter post.
“I appreciate his empathy for feeling the pain of a political colleague who has spent 110 days in jail. In times of bitterness, such gestures are becoming rare. Rahulji is focusing on love and compassion in his yatra. Hence, he is getting a massive response,” Raut said.
Raut also said that Rahul was one such person who stayed connected as a friend irrespective of ideological and political differences. “I have friends in BJP as well but they were happy when I was in jail, this is politics of Mughal era,” Raut said, referring to the period he spent in jail in an alleged case of money laundering.
The Savarkar and Shivaji controversies provided the Congress an opportunity to slam the BJP ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections on December 1 and 5.
During a TV debate, Congress spokesperson Rohan Gupta asked Sudhanshu Trivedi to apologise for allegedly insulting Shivaji Maharaj while the BJP leader argued that he never made a mention about the Maratha icon’s apology before the Mughal ruler.
The BJP too picked up the Savarkar issue to slam the Congress. Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said letters cited by Rahul Gandhi while making critical remarks against freedom fighter VD Savarkar were common during the British rule and even Mahatma Gandhi used to write such missives.
Addressing a rally in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, the BJP leader said Rahul was fond of insulting national heroes except those belonging to the Gandhi-Nehru family.
“Whatever Rahul Gandhi said was childish. The kind of letters he is showing…I want to tell him that Mahatma Gandhi had also written such letters. People have published them, too. He always insults our respected national figures except those from the Gandhi-Nehru family,” said Fadnavis.
“He does not believe in Savarkar, or Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose or Sardar Patel. Instead, he always tries to defame them,” he said.
Union minister Anurag Thakur too slammed Rahul.
“Earlier, he used to talk about Hindu terrorism and also went to the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi) to express support for those who wished to break India into pieces. Now, he is criticising Savarkar,” Thakur said at a rally in Surat.
The Congress, which often attacks the BJP over its celebration of VD Savarkar, was in for a major embarrassment in September when a banner put up at Aluva in Ernakulam, Kerala, to mark Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra passing through the area, contained photos of icons such as Chandrashekhar Azad, Rabindranath Tagore, Govind Ballabh Pant, Abul Kalam Azad – and Savarkar.
BJP IT cell in charge Amit Malviya had said that “Although belated”, it was a “good realisation for Rahul Gandhi, whose great grandfather Nehru signed a mercy petition, pleading the British to allow him to flee from Punjab’s Nabha jail in just 2 weeks.”
Congress media chairman Pawan Khera had hit back saying, “Typical Malviya BS that is peddled as history. Nehru spent a total of almost ten years in jail and never ever submitted a mercy petition like Savarkar first and later Vajpayee and others.”