The Maharashtra BJP’s election manifesto, which made a proposal to confer the nation’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, on Veer Savarkar exposes the party’s double standards and hypocrisy like few of its other public postures do. Savarkar propounded the Hindutva ideology and advocated a militant nationalism which excluded minorities like Muslims and Christians. He thought they could not be incorporated into the fold of Hindutva, which was the basis of his idea of nationhood, because “their holy land is far off’’ and “their love is divided’’. This violates the values and ideals of the Indian Constitution which holds all religions and citizens equal. It will be a travesty of the Constitution if a person who held such views is given a national honour, and the government should explain whether it is Savarkar’s thoughts or the Constitution that guides it.
The proposal also shows how insincere and disingenuous the government and the party are in their professed love of and adoration of Gandhi. The BJP has tried to appropriate Gandhi and lay claim to his legacy. But it cannot claim Gandhi and Savarkar at the same time as they held opposite and incompatible views on most issues. While the driving idea of Gandhi’s politics was Hindu-Muslim unity, Savarkar believed they were separate, and he championed the two-nation theory even before Jinnah did. Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin, was associated with Savarkar. Savarkar was an accused in the Gandhi murder case and was acquitted only on technical grounds. The Kapur Commission, which investigated Gandhi’s assassination in the 1960s, indicted Savarkar. Sardar Patel, whom the BJP venerates, thought Savarkar was involved in the conspiracy. Bestowing a national honour on Savarkar will amount to denigration of Gandhi.
Ideology apart, Savarkar’s personal credentials make him an unworthy recipient of a national honour. He was the president of the Hindu Mahasabha which did not participate in the freedom struggle and even opposed it on various occasions. Savarkar said in 1942 that the organisation followed a policy of “responsive co-operation’’ with the British. He personally wrote letters of apology to the British government, promising loyalty to it and expressing his readiness to “serve the government in any capacity’’ in order to secure his freedom the Cellular Jail in the Andamans. Does a loyal servant of the British government deserve independent India’s highest honour? Union Home Minister Amit Shah says Savarkar had the patriotism and perceptiveness to describe the 1857 uprising as the First War of Independence. There were others who fought the British even before 1857, like Tipu Sultan. The eligibility criteria for national honours and standards of patriotism should not be laid down by parties and governments to suit their political predilections and convenience.