Hindu Mahasabha founder Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
Hindu Mahasabha founder Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

In the Christopher Nolan-directed Dark Knight Trilogy, one scene between the Batman and The Joker stands out. Batman asks The Joker why he wants to kill him. The Joker bursts out laughing and says, “Kill you?! I don’t want to kill you. What would I do without you? No… you complete me!”

That complex relationship pretty much sums up the relationship between the Congress and Veer Savarkar. Savarkar is the favourite whipping boy of the Congress’ IT cell, much like Jawaharlal Nehru is for the BJP IT Cell.

It's also interesting to note how people tweet about Nehru and Savarkar. This is particularly evident from the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweets. Every year on Nehru’s death anniversary, which falls a day before Savarkar’s birth anniversary, the prime minister pays ‘tribute’ to Nehru in one sentence – something he has to given the position Modi holds, but when it comes to paying tribute to Savarkar, it’s an almost 280-character tweet with an embedded video.

Similarly, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had a lengthy tweet about Nehru, but so far has not tweeted anything about Savarkar. Rahul of course has been critical of Savarkar on several occasions, the most noticeable was when during the martyrdom anniversary of Bhagat Singh on May 23. In a series of tweets at the time, Congress attacked Savarkar, even dusting out his 1913 petition from Andaman's Cellular Jail, where he expressed loyalty to British government. The party even compared this petition with that of Bhagat Singh's 1931 petition saying: "There exists a state of war between the British Nation and Indian Nation and secondly, that we had actually participated in that war and we therefore are war prisoners."

Interestingly, a similar argument had been raised by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar in 2004. At the time, Congress party leaders had distanced away from it, saying it was Aiyar’s personal opinion. Ghulam Nabi Azad said that the party doesn’t agree with what Aiyar said about Savarkar.

More recently, in December 2019, Rahul Gandhi launched a blistering attack on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying he will never apologise for speaking out the "truth". He said that it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his "assistant" Amit Shah who need to apologise for "destroying" the country's economy.

"I was told by the BJP in Parliament yesterday, 'Rahul ji, you gave a speech. Apologise for that.' I was told to apologise for something which is right. My name is not Rahul Savarkar. My name is Rahul Gandhi. I will never apologise for truth," Gandhi said at the party's 'Bharat Bachao' rally.

Meanwhile, Savarkar’s grandson Ranjeet Savarkar had even said during the run-up to the 2019 Maharashtra Assembly Elections that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a follower. “Indira Gandhi honoured Veer Savarkar. I strongly feel she was his follower because she brought Pakistan to its knees, strengthened the army and foreign relations, she also did nuclear tests.”

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said at a press conference in Mumbai that the Congress is not in favour of what "Savarkar-ji patronised and stood for", as he spoke about his party's opposition to the demand for Bharat Ratna for him. Singh, however, noted that Indira Gandhi as prime minister had issued a postal stamp in Savarkar's memory.

Savarkar has been a polarising figure as the Congress and other opposition parties have long shunned him for his alleged link to Mahatma Gandhi's assassin. He was acquitted of the charge but his hard line Hindutva views long made him a pariah for the Congress.

In 2003, the NDA government wanted to put up a picture of Savarkar in parliament. Then speaker and Sena leader Manohar Joshi had made the demand but was met with vehemence from Congress.

Yet when Sonia Gandhi, wrote to then President Kalam to review his decision to unveil Savarkar's portrait, the BJP hit back with Indira Gandhi's adulation for the former freedom fighter.

More embarrassingly from Sonia, she learned that senior colleagues like Shivraj Patil and Pranab Mukherjee had agreed to the proposal and she slammed them at a meeting of the Congress PAC in Parliament.

Several party leaders of the Congress, particularly those from the Maharashtra were also opposed to the vilification, knowing fully well how big he was in the state.

And as the years go on, the exchange of words will continue, but Congress’ stance on Savarkar will always remain a mystery irrespective of what the party high-command feels about him.

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