New Delhi: A road named after V.D. Savarkar has become the latest flashpoint of controversy at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, with a group of students vandalising the signboard bearing the late Hindu nationalist leader’s name Monday night.
Following the incident, claims and counter-claims have been flying about on the defacement. In a Monday night tweet, JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh put up pictures of the signboard before and after the incident, showing that the name of Dr B.R. Ambedkar had been painted over Savarkar’s.
“We can never ever accept apologists and stooges of the British who undermined our secular fabric. Let’s respect those who gave us our constitution,” she tweeted.
— Aishe (ঐশী) (@aishe_ghosh) March 16, 2020
However, the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, claimed that a poster of Muhammad Ali Jinnah was put up after blanking out Savarkar’s name, and then Ambedkar’s name was painted on it later.
“A poster of Jinnah was put up at night over Savarkar’s name by the Left-wing but they later removed it in the morning after realising its consequences and renamed it to B.R. Ambedkar,” Shivam Chaurasiya, ABVP JNU member told ThePrint.
The JNU Teachers’ Federation, a group started by former ABVP member Saurabh Sharma, also claimed that the Jinnah poster was pasted on the road sign, and “condemned the act”.
Anti social elements who vandalised the name of Veer Savarkar must be punished. First they vandalised Vivekananda statue, then Veer Savarkar. JNUTF strongly condemns such vandalism. pic.twitter.com/BJ143GkboC
— JNU Teachers' Federation (@jnutf19) March 17, 2020
However, former JNUSU president N. Sai Balaji said the Jinnah poster theory is fake propaganda being circulated by the ABVP, and that the image is “photoshopped”.
For all the propaganda thats happening about renaming the roads!
The below picture is clicked by a student as of now in JNU. The images what ABVP is circulating is fake & photoshoed just like their patron Savarkar role in freedom struggle of India! @abhisar_sharma @free_thinker pic.twitter.com/ffv7Ltty60
— N Sai Balaji (@nsaibalaji) March 17, 2020
ThePrint could not independently corroborate if the Jinnah poster was put up. At least three other students ThePrint spoke to confirmed that the road sign bore the name of Ambedkar, but none confirmed seeing a Jinnah poster.
Meanwhile, JNU vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar condemned the act in a statement released late Tuesday. “Last night some miscreants indulged in defacing the road signage in our campus. This is highly regrettable. In an educational institution, one can disagree intellectually but stooping down to such acts is unwarranted,” he said.
Naming approved by exec council
After drawing much flak from students for naming the road after Hindutva icon Savarkar, the JNU administration had said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the move was part of a campus development exercise approved by its executive council, the highest decision-making body for all university-related matters. More roads are to be named after freedom fighters, Dalit icons and women in the near future, the administration said.
According to JNU Registrar Pramod Kumar, it was decided in 2016 that roads inside the campus will be given proper names and signboards will be erected accordingly because visitors find it difficult to locate faculty and students’ residences inside the 1,000-acre campus. The campus development committee started naming roads, and various names were agreed upon by the executive council.
Kumar said the decision to name a road after Savarkar was taken in a meeting of the executive council held in November 2019, and the Estate and Engineering Branch started putting up the signboards after the approval.
Other icons to get the honour
The administration plans to name roads after icons like Guru Ravidas, who is revered by the Dalit community, Rani Abakka, a warrior queen from the coastal region of what is now Karnataka, and the Rani of Jhansi, who fought against the British in 1857.
Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji and Mewar’s Maharana Pratap have also been included in the list.
There are also plans to have roads named after Indian political legends like Lokmanya Tilak, Sardar Patel and Gopinath Bordoloi, as well as social reformer Dayanand Saraswati and the composer of the epic Ramayana, Maharishi Valmiki.
The campus already has roads in the name of tribal icon Birsa Munda, ancient mathematician and astronomer Aryabhatta, and former President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, among others.
“During the last couple of years, various signboards were installed along different roads on the campus. However, the list was not exhaustive to name all the roads, hence more names were suggested,” the registrar said.