October 19, 2019

Vinayak Savarkar — Is This The Man You Want to Give Bharat Ratna To? Charmy Harikrishnan


Vinayak Savarkar — Is This The Man You Want to Give Bharat Ratna To?

Savarkar, both Sardar Patel and the JL Kapur Commission underlined, was involved in the conspiracy to assassinate the Mahatma

Charmy Harikrishnan
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi reportedly met Vinayak Damodar Savarkar at India House, London, one October day in 1906. Savarkar was frying prawns when Gandhi arrived. As they talked politics, Savarkar said, “Come and have some food with us.” Gandhi declined. Savarkar retorted that if Gandhi couldn’t eat with him, how was he going to work with him? Gandhi didn’t eat Savarkar’s prawns nor did he bite his political ideology. They diverged till the very end.
One hundred and thirteen years later, the BJP’s manifesto for the October 21 Maharashtra assembly elections has a strange promise: to confer Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, to Savarkar. He propounded the ideology of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism that underpins the Sangh Parivar and the BJP government at the Centre. It has become palatable in different degrees to different people who will not therefore baulk at a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar, but what makes the BJP’s proposal unacceptable in a country that still calls Mahatma the father of the nation is something else: what was the extent of Savarkar’s role in the assassination of Gandhi?
Savarkar was arrested on February 5, 1948 – six days after Gandhi’s assassination – and was charged as a co-conspirator. In February 27, 1948, home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – who has been co-opted and celebrated by the BJP – wrote to prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru: “I have kept myself almost in daily touch with the progress of the investigation regarding Bapu’s assassination case… It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha — directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through” (Sardar Patel Correspondence 1945-50, Vol 6, edited by Durga Das).
The hearings of the Gandhi murder trial began at Delhi’s Red Fort on May 27. Digambar Badge, who supplied weapons and ammunition to the main accused Nathuram Godse and his collaborator Narayan Apte, turned approver. According to his statement, Godse and Apte visited Savarkar’s home called Savarkar Sadan on January 17, 1948, to seek his blessings. Badge said he was asked to wait in the ground floor as Godse and Apte went up to the first floor. “They returned in five to ten minutes followed by Savarkar. He addressed Godse and told him. ‘Yashasvi houn yaa (Return successful).’” Badge stated that later in the cab, Apte said, “Tatyarao ni ase bhavishya kele ahe ki ata Gandhi chi shambhar varshe bharli. Ata kahi sanvshay nahi ki apla kaam yashasvi honaar. (Tatyarao, Savarkar, has predicted that now Gandhi’s hundred years are over. There is no doubt that our work will be successful” (‘Let’s Kill Gandhi’ by Tushar A Gandhi). That was three days before they threw a grenade at a prayer meeting of Gandhi and 13 days before Godse killed him. 
Both Godse and Savarkar denied Badge’s statement. Savarkar was let off for want of corroborating evidence.
However, in 1965, the Jeevan Lal Kapur Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi was set up. It took into account statements made by Appa Ramchandra Kasar, bodyguard of Savarkar, and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, Savarkar’s secretary, to the Bombay Police on March 4, 1948. In the unpardonably rushed Red Fort trial, neither Kasar nor Damle was tried. In the report of the commission, which came out in 1969, both Damle and Kasar said there were extensive interactions between Savarkar and Godse before the assassination. Damle said that “Apte and Godse came to see Savarkar about the middle of January, late at night.” Kasar said that, “On or about 15th or 16th (January), Godse and Apte had an interview with Savarkar at 9.30 pm. After about a week or so, maybe 23rd or 24th of January, Apte and Godse again came to Savarkar and had a talk with him at about 10 or 10.30 am for about half an hour.”
The report said, “All this shows that people who were subsequently involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi were all congregating sometime or the other at Savarkar Sadan and sometimes had long interviews with Savarkar. It is significant that… Apte and Godse visited him both before the bomb was thrown and also before the murder was committed and on each occasion they had long interviews.”
The JL Kapur Commission concluded: “All the facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”
By the time the report came out in 1969, Savarkar was dead for three years.
All these details are available in the public domain. Savarkar, both Patel and the JL Kapur report underlined, was involved in the conspiracy to assassinate the Mahatma. 
The BJP, in its recent practice of simultaneous adoration of Savarkar and Gandhi, attempts to tie them together, but they diverge in almost every aspect. And in the end what binds them violently is independent India’s first and biggest political assassination where one is the conspirator and the other is the assassinated. 
In this Bharat Ratna-fication, heightened exaltation of Savarkar, we, the people may be complicit in our ignorance of one of the most momentous moments of our history, of even the basic details of who were involved and, to what extent, in the assassination of the Mahatma, but the party that rules this country cannot exploit that ignorance, distort history and gaslight us by saying that he is worthy of the highest honour. 
Is Savarkar the man you want to give Bharat Ratna to? Is he the man whose “sanskar” will be the “basis of our nation-building”?
In this bewilderingly complex country, everyone is free to choose sides, to hew to ideologies of different shades, but in Mahatma Gandhi vs Vinayak Savarkar, there’s only one side you can take. And that will define you. 
— Charmy Harikrishnan