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At a book launch two weeks ago, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said it was on “Gandhi’s suggestion that (VD) Savarkar filed a mercy petition (before the British government).”
The Quint spoke to Professor Vinayak Chaturvedi, Department of History, University of California, Irvine, about a fact-check on the statement made by the minister, the relationship between Gandhi and Savarkar, and why he considers the Hindutva icon “the ghost father of the nation.”
Chaturvedi’s book, titled Hindutva and Violence: VD Savarkar and the Essentials of History, will be published next year by Permanent Black in India, and SUNY Press in the US.
“There is no evidence to suggest that Gandhi asked Savarkar to file a mercy petition. Savarkar was arrested in 1910, then convicted in 1911, and was sent to the Andamans to serve two life sentences. As soon as he arrived, he started writing petitions for his release, so he writes them in 1911, 1912, 1914, 1916, 1918, and then two petitions in 1920.”Vinayak Chaturvedi
'BJP & RSS' Attempt to Resurrect Savarkar as a Brave Figure'
Chaturvedi said that suggesting that the advice to file the petition came from Gandhi is “an act of misreading.” He said that the discussions on Savarkar are the BJP and RSS’ “desire to resurrect Savarkar as this brave figure, whereas for Savarkar’s critics, it’s mainly the point that he wasn’t brave. We get into this cycle of conversation, which I think is not very useful.”
He said that apart from resurrecting Savarkar, this is also a way to “delegitimise Gandhi,” adding that “It sets up the platform for elevating Savarkar… This is going to increase further. We can’t ignore Savarkar anymore, the Sangh Parivar will ensure we don’t.”
Chaturvedi mentioned an essay that Savarkar wrote before he died on what a Hindu activist needs to do create the Hindu Rashtra. “One of the things he points out is that they need to read books, write histories, open publishing houses,” said Chaturvedi, as he mentioned the long-term project of mainstreaming Savarkar. He also spoke about how naming streets, airports, buildings after Savarkar, too, is a part of the long-term project of mainstreaming him.
In an interview to Jacobin in 2019, Chaturvedi said, “I think that the worry for lots of people is that perhaps Savarkar is the ghost father of the nation.”
He further elaborated, “I think Savarkar has been treated as a figure who haunts the nation… look at the binary today of Gandhi and Savarkar. People who are critical of Savarkar’s ideas and politics question Savarkar’s involvement in the slaying of the father of the nation every January, around Gandhi’s death anniversary, while his supporters feel that he has been maligned or mistreated yet he doesn’t occupy the same space as Gandhi but there is a desire to resurrect his position.”