A proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill was being discussed in Lok Sabha, on 17th November, 1972. It was being proposed to rename Andaman and Nicobar Islands as Shahid and Swaraj Dweep. In that discussion, Congress (I) parliamentarian Ram Gopal Reddy referred to Subhash Chandra Bose, Shri Arvind and Savarkar as Terrorists. When such an utterance was opposed, Gopal Reddy said that he had no qualms in saying so and that he stands by his words. There was no reaction from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi either and it seemed that the act of disparaging revolutionaries had her tacit approval.
There was no doubt that Congress would face criticism for calling Freedom Fighters, Terrorists. To guard itself from further embarrassment, the Govt, on 7th March, 1973, took a decision to declare Savarkar a Freedom Fighter. This was about 26 years after Independence and 7 years after the demise of Savarkar. The ‘Terrorist’ tag was neither first nor the last time that Savarkar and other Freedom Fighters were being insulted. In 1957, Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh had submitted a Bill which proposed to give recognition to the sacrifices of Savarkar, Virendra Kumar Ghosh (brother of Shri Arvind) and Dr. Bhupendra Nath Dutta, the brother of Swami Vivekananda. The Bill was eventually put to vote and Congress, which had majority, ensured that the Bill falls.
A study of Savarkar’s life alone would tell us that Congress never shied away from humiliating him. At times, he was meted out inhuman treatment too. One such instance was in 1950 when Prime Minister of Pakistan was visiting New Delhi and Savarkar was in Mumbai, 1400 KMs away. The Govt put Savarkar under house arrest and his crime? He was opposing in a very peaceful manner, the Nehru-Liaqat pact, despite the fact that peaceful opposition is a democratic right.
Such high-handed behaviour of the Indian Govt was unquestionably undemocratic. Savarkar’s political vision, the clarity of his thought and the popularity of his pen had piqued the establishment. This were the very reasons why the British, during the colonial period, used to stop him from speaking in public. The Congress Govt was no different. The stature of Savarkar was so high that Jinnah too considered him an extraordinary person. Jinnah’s Presidential address in the 1941 Madras Session of Muslim League referred to Savarkar four times. Though there is no special reason to mention Jinnah here, the point that is being driven home is that even Savarkar’s adversaries were impressed by him.
In the same city (Madras) and in the same year (1941), the 41st session of National Liberal Federation India was being called. R.P Paranjape, former Principal of Ferguson College at Pune, had put forward a proposal with reference to Hindu MahaSabha. Appreciating Savarkar, he had said “all the liberals present here need to profusely appreciate Savarkar’s views on the Social issues.” The same R.P. Paranjape whowhen he was the Principal of Ferguson College had expelled Savarkar for his nationalist views could not stop himself from showering accolades on Savarkar.
Despite his efficiency and abilities, Savarkar never received any special recognition or honour during his lifetime. The first and the only recognition and honour that he has received till date was in 2003 when the NDA Govt unveiled his picture in the Parliament Hall and the President of India dedicated it to the nation. This was not without initial hiccups, though. In 2001, Vajpayee Govt’s proposal to rename Port Blair Airport as Savarkar Airport was opposed bitterly by the communists. The communists of the 21st century seem to have forgotten that H. N Mukherjee, the Supreme Communist Leader of the 20th, counted himself among the supporters of Savarkar.
It was H.N Mukherjee himself who, after Savarkar’s demise, had reminded the Govt that it should and is expected to express condolence and pay tributes. Senior Congress leader and the then Lok-Sabha Speaker, Hukum Singh, summarily dismissed this demand of H.N Mukherjee. Even when Savarkar had fallen sick and when it was demanded that the Govt should come forward to bear the medical expenses, a paltry amount of Rs. 1000.00 was granted by the Govtas a lip service.
The ill-treatment being meted out to Savarkar did not stop at this. Immediately after his demise, Congress Govt. had assured that a commemorative Postal Stamp will be released as a tribute to Savarkar. Even after a year of his passing away, no stamp was released and when the question was asked in the parliament, the Govt shamelessly told that during the last year, eight commemorative stamps have been released. Minister I.K Gujral even went to the extent of saying that there was shortage paper for printing Postal Stamps. Finally, after three long years after Savarkar’s death, commemorative postal stamp was released on 28th May, 1970.
Ram Naik, the then Petroleum Minister in NDA Govt, proposed that a Swatantra Jyoti (Flame of Independence) be lit at the Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was also proposed that the thoughts and views of leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Madanlal Dheengra along with those of Savarkar find a place in the Cellular jail. But there was a change of Govt at Delhi and the controversial Mani Shanker Aiyar was appointed the Petroleum Minister. Immediately after assuming charge, he got the Quotes of Savarkar removed from the Cellular Jail. To avoid opposition against this move, a unique idea was thought of: replace Savarkar by Mahatma Gandhi! This despite the fact that the views of Gandhi and those of Savarkar as well could have found place there.
More saddening than this ‘replacement’ act was Mani Shanker’s stoic silence on the issue in the Parliament. The whole of UPA Govt got busy in shielding him. Pranab Mukherjee tirelessly defended Aiyar. The UPA Govt, even during its last days, continued to discriminate against the legacy of Savarkar. The Mayor of the French city of Marseilles had proposed that a memorial be constructed there for Savarkar. It was in the port of Marseilles that Savarkar had successfully escaped from the custody of British by leaping into the Sea. The Mayor of Marseilles wrote a letter to the UPA Govt seeking its consent. Unfortunately, the Govt of the day chose to be silent and it sat on the file without responding to the Mayor’s request.
This is the saga of a Freedom Fighter and revolutionary who never got his rightful place in the history. The Congress of today might be unaware that in the 1923-24 session of Congress, Mahatma Gandhi, who was chairing the session, had recited poems eulogizing Savarkar. Dhananjay Keer, the author of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s biography, has penned a book on Savarkar in which Keer has written thus: “Social reformers are of two kinds: one, like Gandhi, who work towards the progress of the Society and the other, like Savarkar, who develop the society by inculcating a sense of discipline in the society. Savarkar possessed the ability to inspire and motivate the masses, he had Statesman’s insight and was endowed with a prophetic foresight.”