File Photo
File Photo

New Delhi: Like a desperate man who is clinging to straws in the wind, PM Narendra Modi delved into the freedom struggle and reminded the Congress that no one from the party had bothered to visit freedom fighters Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt when they were imprisoned.

However, his statement was immediately refuted on social media by historians and academicians. India Today even accessed a copy of the Tribune newspaper’s 10th August 1929 edition from the Nehru museum archives. On the front page of its evening edition (published in Lahore), the paper had printed the news of a meeting between Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt (among others). The headline was: Pt. Jawaharlal Interviews Hunger Strikers.

Modi’s original quote on his website had also mentioned Veer Savarkar in the list of freedom fighters. “When Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Batukeshwar Dutt, Veer Savarkar and greats like them were jailed, did any Congress leader go to meet them?” he asked.

“But the Congress leaders go and meet the corrupt who have been jailed. The Congress is supporting those who are corrupt. Such things cannot be accepted.” The reference was possibly to Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav who is serving a jail term after his conviction in the fodder scam.

Historians and journalists immediately latched onto the statement. Wrote journalist Rajesh Mahapatra on the Twitter: Dear Prime Minister, please do not embarrass us anymore. I know, it’s not your fault. Your research team is failing you. Nehru did visit Bhagat Singh after he went on hunger strike at Mianwali jail in June 1929. This is well documented.

Said historian Ramachandra Guha: ‘‘There is no failure and there is no ‘research’ team. These lies, half-lies and falsehoods are willed and deliberate. Unlike that other Gujarati, Gandhi, this one will do anything at all to win an election.’’ “Read before you rant!” the tweet on Congress party’s official Twitter handle said.

According to India Today, Nehru has mentioned the meeting in his autobiography as well, and described how impressed he was with Bhagat Singh. “They were all very weak and bedridden, and it was hardly possible to talk to them very much. Bhagat Singh had an attractive, intellectual face, remarkably calm and peaceful. There seemed to be no anger in it. He looked and talked with great gentleness, but then I suppose that anyone who has been fasting for a month will look spiritual and gentle.”

JNU historian Mridula Mukherjee said she was “shocked” by the prime minister’s statement. “It is a known fact that Nehru and Bhagat Singh were fond of each other.’ When Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries were in jail he not only visited them, but also wrote a letter and gave an open statement after visiting them,” she said. “They had mutual admiration for each other.”