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‘Ideologically poles apart’ – Savarkar on Gandhi museum’s special magazine issue triggers row

Antim Jan is a monthly magazine published in Hindi by the Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti (GSDS). Its June issue was dedicated to Savarkar.

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New Delhi: A special magazine dedicated to V.D. Savarkar brought out by the Gandhi Memorial and Museum has sparked a debate with historians and politicians weighing in on the ‘controversial’ move.

The June issue of the Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti’s Hindi magazine Antim Jan features V.D. Savarkar on its cover, and carries excerpts from Savarkar’s Hindutva, along with articles with titles such as ‘Veer Savarkar and Mahatma Gandhi’. 

Long pitted against Gandhi, the Hindutva ideologue once stood accused of conspiring in Gandhi’s assassination, but was acquitted by the court. This is among the many reasons why contents of the magazine have elicited a strong response from historians and commentators who raised concerns about placing Savarkar at par with Gandhi. 

Savarkar has been back in the public eye in recent years, with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat even declaring that “the era of Savarkar” arrived in India after 2014.

“Whether it’s Gandhiji or Savarkar, both have fought for the freedom struggle and both are respected leaders in our country,” said BJP leader Vijay Goel, who is also vice-chairman of Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti (GSDS). 

The GSDS is a government body chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It oversees the administration of the Gandhi memorial at Raj Ghat, and Gandhi Smriti – the erstwhile Birla House where Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 – on Tees January Marg in New Delhi.

Goel said the issue was to commemorate Savarkar’s birth anniversary on 28 May, and added that Savarkar “made a big sacrifice, so the whole country admires him”. He also said that there is a photo of Savarkar in Parliament. 

“So, as vice-chairman of Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, I think there is no harm in remembering other freedom fighters also,” said Goel. 

Also Read: Pew India survey takes us back to one more thing Gandhi, Savarkar differed on

Gandhi & Savarkar

“Savarkar was one of the co-conspirators in Gandhi ji’s killing, so it’s worrisome to venerate somebody who was involved in planning that,” said Varsha Das, former director of the National Gandhi Museum. “It’s very disturbing,” she added.

However, others don’t see Gandhi and Savarkar at odds with each other. 

“Savarkar was also a freedom fighter, and Gandhi and Savarkar had mutual respect for each other. There were occasions when they praised each other too,” said Information Commissioner Uday Mahurkar, who is also the author of ‘Veer Savarkar: The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition’.

“I don’t see a dichotomy, though there’s no doubt about them being ideologically poles apart,” he added.

Savarkar is also known for having influenced Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. The dominant narrative is that Godse was no longer a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at the time of Gandhi’s assassination, but new work by journalist Dhirendra K. Jha pushes back against this notion.

Calling it the sanitisation of Gandhi’s assassination, Jha’s book claims that not only was Godse Savarkar’s protégé, but he was also a member of the Sangh when he killed Gandhi. 

‘Bapu would have forgiven his murderers’

“I feel that is where Gandhian institutions need to be insulated from direct government control,” said Tushar Gandhi, Gandhi’s great-grandson and author of several books on M.K. Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi. 

Gandhi said he is not surprised to see someone involved in his great grandfather’s “cold-blooded murder” on the cover of a Gandhian magazine, adding that he “expects” such things to happen more often as “the entire administration is influenced by the current government’s ideology”.

“In the true Gandhian spirit of forgiveness, we shouldn’t forget that Bapu would have forgiven his murderers had he survived,” he said, adding, “but under the present circumstances, any criticism isn’t sufficient.”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: The real story is Gandhi, Savarkar were on same page on Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan — and caste


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