It is a fact documented in history that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha leader who was also the ideological pater to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, wrote mercy petitions to the British administration to secure his release from the cellular jail in the Andamans, which he signed off with the flourish of the colonised “I remain, your most obedient servant…” It is equally well-known that the Bharatiya Janata Party began the political rehabilitation of Mr Savarkar during the first government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, installing his portrait in the Parliament, and its then ally Shiv Sena consistently demanded the Bharat Ratna for the man who was tried in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case. Despite the rehabilitation Mr Savarkar has received in recent years, the Congress — especially the Gandhis — continue to snub his acts and memory at any given occasion, and rightly so. So, when Rahul Gandhi, now on the Maharashtra leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY), remarked while acknowledging Birsa Munda’s fight against the British that Mr Savarkar had written mercy petitions, it was hardly a surprise.
This has escalated into a major row that threatens to derail the yatra as Mr Gandhi crosses Maharashtra. It was natural for Uddhav Thackeray (SBT) to denounce Mr Gandhi’s statements and for Eknath Shinde’s breakaway faction to file a defamation case against him. Could this remark damage or even break the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in which Mr Thackeray partners with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party? The MVA was always an unnatural alliance, a three-way marriage of convenience not aligned on ideology or worldview, and formed despite Mr Gandhi's views on Mr Savarkar. Mr Gandhi hardly ever acknowledged the alliance during the two-and-half years that Mr Thackeray headed the MVA government. And despite Aaditya Thackeray joining him for the BJY, Mr Gandhi is unlikely to embrace the Thackerays, their party, or its philosophy. If this issue splinters the alliance, so be it, though the signs show otherwise. The political divide will reflect the ideological divide on Mr Savarkar.
Besides the immediate fallout, it is disconcerting that an icon like Birsa Munda only gets a token nod while Mr Savarkar may well be decorated with the country’s highest civilian honour, but pointing out this absurdity and the latter’s affinity towards the British brings on a backlash. Mr Gandhi did not state anything wrong; he was reminding India of the difference between Birsa Munda and Mr Savarkar, and why the latter cannot be the nation’s hero. But India, wrapped up in its majoritarian bubble, does not want to listen.
Vaccination is a priority
The sudden outbreak of measles in Mumbai has caught the Maharashtra government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation off guard. There were seven deaths of children between the ages of one and two by Thursday, 503 confirmed cases, and nearly 6,500 suspected cases mostly from the poorer parts of the city, especially the M-East civic ward on the margin of Mumbai. The jump from previous years is obvious: The suspected cases are nearly twice that of last year and five times that of 2019, the confirmed cases are already six times the count of last year. Measles is a common and highly contagious viral infection among young children if they have not been immunised. The World Health Organization recommends immunisation for all children with two doses of measles vaccine by itself or in a measles-rubella (MR) or measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) combination, but fear and misinformation often trump scientific advice.
BMC officials affirmed that they encountered great vaccine hesitancy among parents even as medical teams identified around 20,000 children in the nine months to five-year age group who were not immunised. Municipal Commissioner IS Chahal advised parents to have their children vaccinated on priority. The fear or hesitancy may finally have been breached as mothers of the children who succumbed to measles spoke up for vaccination and advised other parents, mostly migrant workers with large families, to get their children jabbed. The BMC reached out to local religious leaders including imams of mosques to enlist their support for the vaccination drive. It may seem an odd move to make but if it gets more children into the vaccination camp, lives will be saved. Vaccine hesitancy, whether in Covid-19 or measles, only spells trouble; it needs to be dispelled by any and every means.