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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 been forgotten.

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, R.C.
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 exception.

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
Indian self-definition.

The Hindu Monday, March 03, 2003