V. D. Savarkar
In Parliament -Glorification Of The Politics Of Assassination
By Anil Nauriya
A Portrait of V. D. Savarkar
was unveiled in Parliament by the
President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on February 26. On the face of it,
the matter may seem confined to "portraiture" and may seem
to have ended. In fact, the problems of the ruling party, of the Central
Government and of the constitutional functionaries involved in the
episode may have just begun. The implications touch upon the future
course of Government in India. The issue has a bearing also on the role
of certain sections of the print and electronic media, for the portrait
episode has acted as a mirror to them as well.
After the facts relating
to Savarkar's involvement in Mahatma
Gandhi's assassination and on certain other issues were brought into
the public domain, the authorities had three options. The first was
to apologise and turn back from the course on which they had embarked.
The second was to postpone the ceremony and verify the facts. The third
was to brazen it out. They chose the third. This was facilitated by
the existence of sections of the electronic and print media which live
for the moment and thrive on party handouts rather than on painstaking
and independent investigation. The tradition of closely scrutinising
claims made by ruling parties, whichever these may be, seems to have
In view of the political
ineffectiveness of the NDA allies, it is
the BJP-RSS and the Shiv Sena, which together comprise the effective
ruling combine. Spokesmen of the BJP and RSS asserted that they did
not need testimonials from the Congress, the principal Opposition party,
or from any other quarter. They went on, however, to cite statements
made on Savarkar's death in 1966 by Indira Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari
and a famous communist from Maharashtra.
The fact is that Sardar Patel's
letter dated February 27, 1948, to
the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, became public knowledge only in
May 1973 when Volume 6 of Patel's correspondence was published. In the
letter, Patel, who was Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, wrote
about the plot to kill Gandhi: "It was a fanatical wing of the
Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that (hatched) the conspiracy
and saw it through." (page 56) Now, Dr. Kalam has, at the behest
of the ruling combine, unveiled in the Central Hall of Parliament of
the world's largest democracy a portrait of this very individual. And
this has been done to the applause of the ruling alliance. It is surprising
that large sections of the media have yet to acknowledge the meaning
of the event. Some sections of the electronic media even offered Savarkar's
claimed position in Maharashtra as justification enough.
Patel was privy to the intelligence
reports. Many intelligence
reports are also referred to by the Kapur Commission of Inquiry in
the "conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi". This Commission
submitted its report in 1969. In page 318 of Part II of the report,
Savarkar's involvement with the assassins is clearly recorded. Though
Savarkar was not convicted in the murder trial, this had little to do
with his political responsibility for the murder. Even as regards Savarkar's
legal responsibility for the conspiracy, it was not a case of "no
evidence". The approver, Digambar Badge, had implicated Savarkar.
The trial court took the view, as the distinguished barrister, K.L.
Gauba, records in pages 220-221 of his book "Assassination of Mahatma
Gandhi", that the approver's evidence required corroboration.
Savarkar was thus clearly
implicated in the Gandhi murder case.
Although legal responsibility was apparently not proved according to
the evidentiary process, his political responsibility is patent.
That is why even in the course of the murder investigation, Savarkar
pleaded illness and gave, as was his wont, an undertaking. He said in
a statement to the Commissioner of Police on February 22, 1948: "Consequently
in order to disarm all suspicion and to back up representation I wish
to express my willingness to give an undertaking to the Government that
I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political activity
for any period the Government may require in case I am released on that
condition." (K.L. Gauba, page 209). Clearly, the giver of the undertaking
was apprehensive about the evidence against him.
The ruling combine's spokesmen
have tried to suggest that the
Congress, in its protest in regard to the portrait, has been misled
by people who are dismissively described as some "Leftists"
and "historians from Jawaharlal Nehru University". However,
Majumdar did not come under either category. His work, "Penal
Settlement In the Andamans" shows that Savarkar's earlier record
which led to his incarceration in the Cellular Jail in Port Blair,
Andaman Islands, is sullied. From jail he addressed mercy petitions
to the British Raj. His mercy petition dated November 14, 1913, is published
in R.C. Majumdar's book in pages 211-214. In the petition Savarkar wrote:
"Now no man having the good of India and humanity at heart will
blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation
of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress.
Therefore if the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy
release me I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional
progress and loyalty to the English Government which is the foremost
condition of that progress." In accordance with this undertaking,
Savarkar never thereafter took part in the freedom movement. It is significant
that this mercy petition also entered the public domain only in 1975
when R. C. Majumdar's book was published by the Government of India.
The earlier petition which Savarkar addressed in 1911 is yet to come
to light but is referred to in the 1913 petition.
As has already been repeatedly
stressed by the Opposition parties, Savarkar was out of sync with the
idea of nationhood which lay at the heart of the freedom movement and
which underlies India's Constitution. For example, on August 15, 1943,
Savarkar declared: "I have no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah's two-nation
theory. We Hindus are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact
that Hindus and Muslims are two nations." (Indian Annual Register,
1943, Vol II, P.10). He had made a similar statement in 1939, seeking
to define Hindus by themselves as a nation. It is not the task of the
Indian nation to confer special honours upon those who do not subscribe
even to its basic values.
Where do we go from here?
So far as the ruling combine is concerned, it has drawn a perfect picture
of itself. For the first time since the present Government came to power
at the Centre, and perhaps for the first time since the Jana Sangh and
then the BJP were founded, Savarkarism has been enshrined as the defining
characteristic of Hindu communalism. Given the self-portrait of itself
that the BJP combine has given the country and the world, its NDA allies
need to consider how far they are willing to take their flirtation with
it. It has been a costly dalliance. Savarkarism was, as Patel had noted,
only the ideology of the "fanatical wing" of the Hindu Mahasabha.
A year after Gujarat 2002, this has become official.
The constitutional authorities
who facilitated this and lent their
office for the purpose are answerable before the world. It is not as
if they had not been apprised of the facts. They were warned,
though, to be fair, the warning did not come early enough. We should
perhaps have been prepared for this outrage when a Shiv Sena nominee
was elected the Lok Sabha Speaker. It has also been clear for sometime
that political parties alone cannot be relied upon to be alert to all
challenges to Indian nationhood. It may be too much to expect an apology
from all the individuals concerned. Somnath Chatterjee is an honourable
But in the light of the remarks
recorded by Sardar Patel and the
other materials, all the constitutional authorities involved,
whoever they may be and no matter how high the position they may hold,
need to face their conscience and ask hard questions about their fitness
to hold the offices they occupy. They are the
custodians not merely of their own reputation but of the Republic's
prestige. All of us need to ask the same questions about the roles
we claim to perform. It is time for the country, its media and its
people to pause and ponder. Capitulation, sectarianism and the
glorification of the politics of assassination cannot be part of the
The Hindu Monday, March 03,