Defence Minister Rajnath Singh's claim that the RSS icon Veer Savarkar filed a mercy petition on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi elicited some mirth on social media, even as others pointed out that the ‘Hindu nationalist’ has been much demonised, often without rhyme or reason.
The ‘old school’ raised questions about how Gandhi could have advised Savarkar in 1911 as he had returned to India from South Africa only in 1915.
Those in the BJP, however, sought to buttress Singh's claim.
Singh was speaking at the launch of a book — Veer Savarkar: The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition — authored by Uday Mahurkar and Chirayu Pandit at a function on Tuesday, where RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also spoke.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, too, joined the debate, asking how Gandhi could have communicated with a jailed Savarkar. “Where was Mahatma Gandhi and where was Savarkar at that time? Savarkar was in jail. How could they have communicated,” he said.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi shared on Twitter a letter written by Gandhi on Jan 25,1920, to Savarkar’s brother regarding the case and accused Singh of giving a "twist" to what the father of nation wrote.
"Rajnath Singhji is amongst the few sober and dignified voices in Modi Sarkar. But he doesn't seem to be free of the RSS habit of rewriting history. He has given a twist to what Gandhi wrote on Jan 25, 1920. Here is that letter to Savarkar’s brother," Ramesh said on Twitter while sharing the letter (See inset).
"Rajnath Singh has clearly blown Gandhi's letter of Jan 25, 1920, out of context. Not surprising. This is par for the course for the BJP/RSS," he said in another tweet.
Defending Savarkar, BJP MP Rakesh Sinha tweeted, "Congress opposes Savarkar ji who never integrated with British administration and exhibited the highest sacrifice for the Motherland. However, some people were dining regularly at Mountbatten's home." (The allusion to Nehru was obvious to all.)
BJP IT cell in-charge Amit Malviya in a tweet quoted Gandhi on Savarkar: "He is clever. He is brave, he is a patriot. The evil, in its hidden form of the present system of Government, he saw much earlier than I did. He is in the Andamans for having loved India too well. Under a just government he would be occupying a high post' - Gandhi on Savarkar."
Jairam Ramesh's comments were in response to a historian and Savarkar's biographer Vikram Sampath, who tweeted, "Some needless brouhaha about the statement by Rajnath Singh." "In my Vol 1 and in countless interviews I had stated already that in 1920 Gandhiji advised Saavarkar brothers to file a petition and even made a case for his release through an essay in Young India 26 May 1920. So, what's the noise about," Sampath said.
Tweeting on the issue, another historian S Irfan Habib said, "Yes, monochromatic history writing is really changing, led by the minister who claims Gandhi asked Savarkar to write mercy petitions. At least it is accepted now that he did write. No documentary evidence needed when the minister makes a claim. New history for New India."
Owaisi attacked Singh and said, "Sir @rajnathsingh you said that Savarkar’s grovelling mercy petitions were on Gandhi's advice. Here's the letter to Savarkar from Gandhi. No mention of petition to the British begging for leniency, mercy and promising to be a faithful servant of the crown."
BJP ally JD(U) too waded into the row over Rajnath Singh's claim, with party spokesperson K C Tyagi demanding that letters exchanged between Gandhi and Savarkar should be made public to shed light on the matter.
Speaking to ANI, CPM leader Brinda Karat said, "Sorry to say but the Defence Minister of the country has given a wrong statement. The Defence Minister is speaking lies. Gandhiji himself went to jail 11 times and never apologised. Savarkar repeatedly sent the mercy petition to the British government and said that I am your son. Is this language of Gandhiji?" (INPUT PTI & ANI)
"I have your letter. It is difficult to advise you. I suggest, however, your framing a brief petition setting forth the facts of the case bringing out in clear relief the fact that the offence committed by your brother was purely political. I suggest this in order that it would be possible to concentrate public attention on the case. Meanwhile as I have said to you in an earlier letter I am moving in the matter in my own way."
The copy of Gandhi's letter to S D Savarkar
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