As Maharashtra voted for the Assembly elections, Congress appeared to embark on course correction over its criticism of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, hailing him as an “accomplished man” who played a role in the “freedom struggle” while making it clear that the party did not subscribe to his ideology.
The nuanced view of Savarkar by the Congress came even as the Maharashtra unit of the BJP pitched for Bharat Ratna for the Hindutva ideolouge, who is viewed sympathetically by a large section across party lines for promoting social reforms such as removal of untouchability.
“I personally don’t subscribe to Savarkar’s ideology but that doesn’t take away the fact that he was an accomplished man who played part in our freedom struggle, fought for Dalit rights and went to jail for the country.
“The strength of Indian thinking has been inclusive. Many strands of the freedom movement have existed – one cannot agree with the jingoism or violent elements of Savarkar’s nationalism nor with his vicious anti- Gandhism but one can accept that he was imbued by nationalist motives,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said on Twitter.
His comments came days after former prime minister Manmohan Singh, addressing a press conference in Mumbai, referred to Savarkar with the honorific ‘ji’ and made it clear that the Congress was not opposed to him, but only the ideology he propagated.
“We are not against Savarkar ji, but we are not in favour of the Hindutva ideology that Savarkar ji patronised and stood for either,” Singh had said last week.
The Congress had been divided over Savarkar and the campaign against him only became shrill after the BJP went on an election-winning spree since 2014. Led by Rahul Gandhi, Congress dug out Savarkar’s controversial past and chose to focus their attack over the mercy petitions he wrote to the British government seeking release from a 50-year jail term in Andamans.
Manmohan also recalled that Indira Gandhi had issued a postage stamp in Savarkar’s memory in 1970.
The divisions in Congress came to the fore when the then NDA government in 2003 moved a proposal to install a portrait of Savarkar in Central Hall of Parliament with the approval of party leaders Pranab Mukherjee and Shivraj Patil.