'Trying to rewrite history': Opposition slams Rajnath Singh's remarks on Gandhi and Savarkar

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A day after defence minister Rajnath Singh's remark that Veer Savarkar wrote mercy petitions on Mahatma Gandhi's request, some Opposition leaders accused him of "trying to rewrite history".

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi shared on Twitter a letter by Gandhi on 25 January, 1920 to Savarkar's brother regarding a case, and accused the Union minister of giving a "twist" to what Gandhi wrote.

The AIMIM leader also said the first petition Savarkar wrote was in 1911, just six months after getting to prison and that Gandhi was in South Africa. Savarkar wrote again in 1913/14 and Gandhi's advice is from 1920, he added.

"Rajnath Singhji is amongst the few sober and dignified voices in Modi Sarkar. But he doesn't seem to be free of the RSS habit of rewriting history. He has given a twist to what Gandhi actually wrote on Jan 25 1920. Here is that letter to Savarkar's brother," Ramesh said on Twitter while sharing the letter.

"Rajnath Singh has clearly blown Gandhi's letter of Jan 25 1920 out of context. Not surprising. This is par for the course for the BJP/RSS," he said in another tweet.

Defending Savarkar, BJP MP Rakesh Sinha tweeted "Congress opposes Savarkar ji who never integrated with British administration and exhibited the highest sacrifice for the Motherland. However, some people had regular dining at Mountbatten's home."

BJP IT cell in-charge Amit Malviya in a tweet quoted Gandhi on Savarkar "he is clever. He is brave, he is a patriot. The evil, in its hidden form of the present system of Government, he saw much earlier than I did. He is in the Andamans for having loved India too well. Under a just government he would be occupying a high post'' - Gandhi on Savarkar."

Jairam Ramesh's comments were in response to a historian and Savarkar's biographer Vikram Sampath, who tweeted, "Some needless brouhaha about the statement by Rajnath Singh." "In my Vol 1 and in countless interviews I had stated already that in 1920 Gandhiji advised Savarkar brothers to file a petition and even made a case for his release through an essay in Young India 26 May 1920. So what's noise about," Sampath said.

Tweeting on the issue, another historian S Irfan Habib said, "Yes, monochromatic history writing is really changing, led by the minister who claims Gandhi asked Savarkar to write mercy petitions. At least it is accepted now that he did write. No documentary evidence needed when the minister makes a claim. New history for New India."

Owaisi attacked Singh and said, "Sir @rajnathsingh you said that Savarkar's grovelling mercy petitions were on Gandhi's advice. Here's the letter to Savarkar from Gandhi. No mention of petition to the British begging for leniency, mercy and promising to be a faithful servant of the crown."

BJP ally JD(U) too waded into the row over Rajnath Singh's claim, with party spokesperson KC Tyagi demanding that letters exchanged between Gandhi and Savarkar should be made public to shed light on the matter.

"While it is true that Savarkar spent many years in jail, it is also true that he tendered an apology and was freed with the consent of the British administration after he reached a pact with them", Tyagi said, adding that he also decided to withdraw from politics following his release.

The copy of Gandhi's letter to SD Savarkar, shared by Ramesh and Owaisi, said, "I have your letter. It is difficult to advise you. I suggest, however, your framing a brief petition setting forth the facts of the case bringing out in clear relief the fact that the offence committed by your brother was purely political. I suggest this in order that it would be possible to concentrate public attention on the case. Meanwhile as I have said to you in an earlier letter I am moving in the matter in my own way."

Rajnath Singh at an event to release a book on Veer Savarkar on Tuesday had alleged that there was a deliberate conspiracy to defame Savarkar and that it was on Gandhi's advice that he wrote his mercy petitions.

"He was an icon of Indian history and will remain so. There can be a difference of opinion about him, but to look down on him as inferior is not appropriate and justifiable. He was a freedom fighter and a staunch nationalist, but people who follow the Marxist and Leninist ideology are the ones who accuse Savarkar of being a fascist...," Singh said, adding that the hatred towards Savarkar is "illogical and unplaced".

Talking about Savarkar as a freedom fighter, he said his commitment for freedom was so strong that the British sentenced him to life imprisonment twice.

"Lies are spread about Savarkar repeatedly. It was spread that he filed many mercy petitions seeking his release from jails.... It was Mahatma Gandhi who asked him to file the mercy petitions...," the defence minister said.

'Savarkar worked on British agenda of divide and rule post release'

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Wednesday claimed freedom fighter Veer Savarkar worked on Britishers' agenda of ''divide and rule'' after coming out of jail in 1925 and he was the first to come up with the "two-nation theory".

He was replying to a query on Defence Minister Rajnath Singh's remark on Tuesday that it was on Mahatma Gandhi's request that Savarkar wrote mercy petitions to the British.

"...Tell me one thing, where was Mahatma Gandhi at that time? He was in Wardha (Maharashtra) and where was he (Savarkar)? He was in Cellular Jail (in Andaman and Nicobar Islands).

"How would they have contacted (each other)? He filed mercy petitions from jail... not once but half a dozen times," Baghel told reporters at the Police Lines helipad here.

The Congress CM accused Savarkar of colluding with the British to further their ''divide and rule'' policy.

"After apologising to Britishers, he continued to be with them and never spoke a single word against them. He worked on Britishers' agenda of ''divide and rule''. He was the first one to suggest the two-nation theory after coming out of jail in 1925," he added.

"Savarkar talked about Hindustan and Pakistan in 1925 and later the Muslim League in 1937. Both communal forces had created background for the Partition of the country (in 1947)," Baghel added.

With inputs from PTI

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