Illustration of Sonia Gandhi (L), Veer Savarkar (C) and Indira Gandhi (R) by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration by Soham Sen| ThePrint
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The most intriguing thing about the latest Bharat Ratna-for-Savarkar controversy is how it has left the Congress with its knickers, khaki or not, in a twist.

Between outright condemnation of Savarkar as a Nazi, hateful bigot and a Gandhi assassination “conspirator” who got away on a technicality, and Manmohan Singh’s way more nuanced “we respect Savarkar ji but do not agree with his ideology”, Congress does not know its party line on an issue as sensitive as this. Especially with the Maharashtra election campaign on.

Just a day after Manmohan Singh’s cautious but more sensible statement, the party was also trying desperately to distance itself from it. It fielded its spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala. But his attempt to further ‘nuance’ Manmohan Singh’s statement was desperate and pathetic. Because Singh had indulged in neither sophistry, nor absent-minded ambiguity.

What he said could have been his party’s position from the beginning, and it would have spared itself the self-destructive back-and-forth now. Especially when legions of Savarkar fans are pulling out the facsimile of the commemorative postage stamp Indira Gandhi issued to honour him in 1970, the glowing (although cautiously diplomatic) tributes she paid to him, some even in writing. Also, that she patronised a documentary on his life and even made a donation of Rs 11,000 (equal to about Rs 5 lakh now) to a memorial fund. So, how does the Congress square its current position with hers?

Indira Gandhi was no P.V. Narasimha Rao, who the Congress has repudiated and purged for his “soft secularism”, if not closet Hindutva, and “wearing khaki ‘knickers’ under his dhoti”. Congress leaders have also demanded a return to the party’s old-style hard secularism.

Indira Gandhi is different. No one in the Congress party would dare accuse her of being soft in her secularism, on Hindutva, or on anything else. Evidence of her ‘toughness’ lies across our geography (where it worked well, liberation of Bangladesh) and history (where it didn’t, Emergency).

It’s a very well-known fact but still needs restating in this context that anywhere between 60-75 per cent of all those she detained during the Emergency were from the RSS and Jana Sangh. She had anything but a soft corner for them anywhere in her secular patriot’s autocratic heart.


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The fact is, Indira Gandhi was much more political than ideological than her legatees. Historians will look for more evidence of why she acted the way she did on Savarkar, but I will hazard the guess that because she so detested the RSS/Jana Sangh, she did not want to cede to them anyone, of any persuasion who may have made a contribution to the freedom movement. Not when her charge against the RSS always was that it gave the freedom movement a miss and collaborated with the British.

Savarkar was the closest the RSS had to a freedom movement icon, however flawed. She wasn’t going to gift him to them. To understand her thinking better, watch carefully how the Modi-Shah BJP is acting on the Congress party’s long marchers’ pantheon. We had noted in an earlier National Interest how the RSS/BJP had a big problem: Absence of heroes from the freedom struggle. Even non-Congress ones like Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose were far removed from their ideology. That’s why their need for ‘imports’ from Congress has been desperate.

Minus the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty (although they have Maneka and Varun Gandhi), they’ve been willing to embrace just about anyone. Sardar Patel had been taken much earlier, but this government is building him into a founder of the republic bigger than Nehru. Never mind that Patel was no fan of the RSS and banned it after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. There is plenty of documentation available on his negative view of the RSS. But, because his differences with Nehru were stronger and better documented, he was the first old stalwart the BJP took away from the Congress.

Lal Bahadur Shastri became the next. Others, of the old Congress Hindu Right, like Madan Mohan Malaviya, have been easy pickings. All of this has happened in about the past three decades. Or, to put it in a more political context, in a post-Indira India.

These three decades are also marked by another phenomenon: The Congress party’s rapid shift to the ideological Left. It is true that the party has always been Left of centre. Indira Gandhi used her Socialism as a deadly political weapon, even if it was destructive for the economy.

She used the socio-populist economic ideas of her Leftist hangers-on, but never let them run her politics. She was never going to give up her Hindu identity, symbols of religiosity like the rudraksh mala, poojas, sadhus and tantriks as well. Of course, none of her revolutionary durbaris dared to raise a finger. This is so unlike today, when our politico-intellectual Left freely judges Rahul Gandhi for his temple visits and accuses the Manmohan view on Savarkar of being a surrender to soft Hindutva. They need to face up to the harsh truth that Indira Gandhi did not treat Savarkar as an enemy or a terrorist. I repeat for emphasis: She wasn’t about to disown or cede any freedom fighter to the RSS. She knew politics.


Also read: The Pink Curse of Indiranomics


Seshadri Chari, a leading RSS intellectual and a former editor of its mouthpiece Organiser, makes an important political point. That Indira Gandhi never described the Jana Sangh/BJP as a Hindu party. She was never going to put her politics at odds with Hinduism, or surrender India’s majority’s faith to her biggest rivals. She persistently and deliberately dismissed it as just a “baniya” party.

Figure out the difference. If you call them “Hindu”, you create a political push away for a lot of the Hindus. Baniyas, on the other hand, are a tiny and electorally marginal group. Plus, since they represent riches, profit-making and money-lending, especially in rural India, not many of their fellow Hindus feel so strongly for them. It also helped her dismiss the Jana Sangh/BJP claims of being reformist or pro-free markets as “good-for-nothing” mercantilists. Baniyas.

Under Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has made that shift to fighting Hindutva/Hinduism rather than mercantilism, Chari suggests. And he makes sense. The essential difference between the Congress during and after Indira’s times is this. That she employed and patronised Left intellectuals as her durbaris and used them and their ideas for her politics. Post-Sonia, the Congress has increasingly let the Leftists and their intellectuals run its politics.

You want evidence: Check out the party’s 2019 manifesto promising repeal of the sedition law, dilution of the AFSPA and thinning out troops from Kashmir. If somebody had suggested that to Indira she would have given him one kick in the butt. Or maybe, she would have asked where they were fighting elections, in India or JNU.

Nehru was a Socialist and had his own towering intellect. He didn’t need anyone’s help. In fact, the late Jaipal Reddy often said that but for Mahatma Gandhi’s influence, Nehru would have been an “unreconstructed Marxist”. Indira boasted no such intellect, so needed to bring in outsiders to help construct her populism. But her politics was entirely her own. She built a deadly combination of nationalism and Socialism that no “party of baniyas” was going to beat.

The equation has reversed now. Her legatees face the Modi-Shah BJP with a deadlier political trishul: Nationalism, religion and Socialism. How does the Sonia-Rahul Congress respond? They are lost, and therefore, hypocritically ambivalent on Sabarimala, triple talaq and Ayodhya. And if they insist on only the new, hard, Left Socialism and concede nationalism and religion (also culture) to the BJP, they are fortunate to have even 52 in this Lok Sabha. A non-career politician like Manmohan Singh understands it. It is just that his party never listened to him.


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23 Comments Share Your Views

23 COMMENTS

  1. For more than seven decades Indian public has been fed with one- sided false history to promote the “particular family and evolve its dynastic ambitions” . As the education has spread, means of communication expanded, World wide web has overtaken mind space , it is now impossible to hide the truth about the personalities, events and their good or bad impact on nation- be it past or present. All it requires is to re-write old history in new perspective, critically with out making past icons as incarnation of God or Devil. Every personality of last century should be evaluated keeping in view the circumstances then prevailing. The leaders do make mistakes, no matter. some may be purely human error. Others may be due to their eccentricities . As there are many ideologies – Left -Right, nationalistic – secularist, ( secularism is given a decorative name to anti-national thinking , opposing Majority and promoting minorities , even when they have affinity with enemies of India ). We need to muster courage to say good -as good and evil as Evil irrespective of the mistaken narrative that was being propagated during last seven decades.
    we are at the stage where old horse Congress is dead for ever. What we need today is to develop a new political outfit to replace BJP , say in future after four decades of their Rule say in 2045 -50. surely it will take this much time to develop All India level party to replace BJP in fifties of this century. Media should start working on that.
    .History never stops. It replaces one set of rulers by another set .

  2. Congress’s change in fortune is not as much due to far left ideology and appeasement but due to it being seen a family business. Manmohan Singh and PV Narsimha Rao will be forgotten in 10 years perhaps, Gandhi’s will still be at the helm of party. Realistically, I don’t see Congress any different than SP, BSP, RJD, LJP, NCP

  3. The main reason of Congress downfall is due to it taking extreme opposite position taken by Modi lead BJP. As BJP is taking nationalistic positions, Congress is taking opposite of nationalistic positions i.e. anti national positions. Congress has been making this blunder for a long time now and it’s rejection by electorates is all time high. With this stand of Congress it’s demise is sure and it will disintegrate in near future.

  4. “Learning” is beneath the “Sonia-Rahul” Congress. They really believe that Modi is only a temporary ‘accident’, and it is they who are ruling India. Hence their ‘contempt’ and hatred’ for Modi, which clearly manifests itself in everything that they both say and do.

    • Completely agree, and hope they are proven wrong for the benefit of merit based democracy, the barriers to which are dynasts from Sonia’s Congress, and perhaps the potential dynasts that current BJP leaders might offer.

  5. This N.I of Shekar GUPTA challenges. It is incomplete. The subject treated by the honorable journalist, ignores a debate that has just been launched by the Minister of the Interior, on the need to rewrite history. How can we deal with the subject mentioned by S. Gupta, and not talk about the position of the minister? We would have liked this NI to be devoted to the return of the past and especially to its rewriting in the political space, but we preferred to highlight the contradictions of the Congress Party. They are real. But dear S.GUPTA, should we fire on an ambulance? You certainly have the answer to this question

  6. To understand why Sonia leaned towards agnostic left is to understand her background. She is a catholic christian and a migrant. She could never use her religion to win substantial votes. In fact I would not hesitate to argue that she sees India only as a territory worth gaining for her kids). She projected herself to be secular only in words, and had no qualms about using religion as a vote bank (her meeting with Imam just before 2014 elections). That only exposed her hypocrisy, and disdain for Hindu middle class. In fact she is like Abhimanyu who could only learn half the art of politics from her mother-in-law, and ended up committing the same mistake that British did – divide and rule. The ‘Hindu’ electorate could easily see that.

    As Shekhar rightly points out, Modi-Shah are proving to be better students of Indira’s political craft that Sonia and her chamchas combined. And this includes the shrewd P. Chidambaram amongst other minnows. I have a feeling that Pranab Mukherjee could sense this flaw in Sonia’s approach but kept quiet.

  7. Savarkars introduction to his book on Indian war of Independence worth reprinting. It is surprising that even no one from Sangh Parivar has not thought of reprinting it.Who wants informed discussion these days?

  8. If Shekhar Guptaji can retrieve an article written by Mohan Dharia in Indian Express when there was an attempt by congress to question Savarkar it would be very revealing. Even Sharad Pawars intervention on that occasion was thoughtful.As correctly pointed out by Guptqaji thought reflexes of Congress has lost its steam and out of touch with real politik.

  9. Undoubtedly, Savarkar was a flawed genius, though many of his ideas appear to be still relevant. That in the pre-independence era the Congessmen too were attracted towards Savarkar is an undeniable historical fact. I quote two instances : (1) March 1927 – Gandhiji visits Savarkar who is still in captivity. Congressmen are elated and they chant slogan “ Gandhi plus Savarkar means total Swaraj” (Source: Biography of Savarkar written by Dhananjay Keer) (2) Savarkar is released by the British government in 1937 and allowed to participate in active politics. Now , in spite of his book ‘Hindutva’, Congressmen expected and wanted him to join the Congress. “ It is on record that Mahatma Gandhi had tried with the help of some Congress leaders to induce Savarkar to join Indian National Congress.. Barrister Nariman, the then Chairman of Bombay Predesh Congress Committee, had declared that he would vacate office to make room for Savarkar if he decides to join Congress” (Source: ‘ Vinayak Damodar Savarkar: Much Maligned and Misunderstood Revolutionary” book by Y.G.Bhave)
    Two big mistakes of Savarkar in his a decade long active political tenure were his refusal to join the mainstream Congress and secondly a justification of Hindu Maha Sabha joining coalition government with the League in Bengal and Sindh. He wasted his political talent due to above mistakes. In the crucial 1945-46 elections Savarkar’s Hindu Maha Sabha failed miserably and didn’t get even one percent of the Hindu votes. The Gandhi assassination virtually finished his political career.
    The most strange fact is that during the pre-independence era, Savarkar and the the RSS were not in good terms. Guru Golvalkar, the RSS chief had scant respect for Savarkar. Savarkar on many occasions requested the Guru to provide organisational support but the Guru repeatedly declined. RSS suffered the most after the Gandhi assassination, though Godse was member of Hindu Maha Sabha. Thereafter in 1950s the RSS decided to form Jana Sangh and entered active politics. Why now they want to use Savarkar as an icon is a mystery. RSS’s concept of Hindutva differs totally from what was proposed by Savarkar. It would be most prudent for BJP to distance themselves from Savarkar. It is a slippery path.

  10. Reading Dr Singh’s “ nuanced “ statement brought to mind Raja Digvijaya Singh’s remark that he was the most underrated politician and the most overrated economist in India. With the economy headed to Timbuktu, perhaps the second part of the statement now sounds a little uncharitable.

    • Digvijaya Singh was bang on target. Just because Modi and team are lousy economic managers doesn’t make MMS better. India’s current plight is not only due to the past 5 years but also due to the previous 5 years with MMS as PM. In fact MMS showed his sound political instincts, when he backed the Indo-US nuclear deal, which played no small part in getting Congress back to power. But when it came to managing the economy MMS was all at see and that trend has continued under extreme left wing Marxist Modi.

  11. Congress is dead ,, It i sin itslast leg .If only Nehru listened to Mahatma Gandhi to disband congress ,India would have had national party with all who are proud to be Indians . Today this so called national party , Congress is afamily affair : that is why no one else other than the feroze Gandhi family can be President .Gone are the days of Pandit Sitaramaiyya , Kamaraj nadar . The murder of Lal Bahadur Sastry is a blot in congress . Yes Manmohan singh is a gentleman ; but he tolerated four corrupt cabinet ministers (as openly said by the famous columnist T.J.S George in Sunday New Indian express) , now two of them are facing trials ) and therefore he has no locus standi to comment on Savarkar. Veer Savarkar life history how many have read . I read when I was in High school . I do not belong to any party . for that matter, I am reminded of two: 1. Oliver Cromwell driving out all the members from Parliament house , London , saying “you have sat toolong doing nothing ” Johnson or Boswell saying ” Politics is the last refuge of scoundrels ” Truly , Savarkar is an Indian to be venerated .

    • MMS is no gentleman. He is the shrewdest politician in the Congress else he would not have survived as PM for 10 years. A man who can falsely claim he was an Assam resident, to get into the Rajya Sabha can hardly be called a gentleman. A man who was willing to be India’s first unelected PM, warming the seat for a family Scion and tolerating corruption can hardly be called a gentleman.

  12. That Congress under Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi has no party line is quite clear. If one recalls the speech of Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury on August 5th, when bill to annull Art 370 was tabled. Congress leaders contradicted themselves, said all wrong things and tied themselves in knots. The difference between Indira Gandhi’s rule and congress rule under Sonia Gandhi was that under the latter, Congress acquired a clear anti-Hindu tint thanks to people like Chidambaram, Sushil Shinde, Digvijay Singh and the like. But, Indira Gandhi, as you have rightly noted, did not adopt anti-Hindu stance, though she did many things to appease the minorities, especially the Muslims. She was not unpatriotic, unlike congress leaders under Sonia Gandhi.

  13. If Manmohan Singh was right in his statement “We respect Savrkar ji but do not agree with his ideology”, we should not mind say we respect Hafiz Saeed ji but we do not agree with his ideology. In a civilized society, we choose friends and foes based on ideology. only. Indira Gandhi may have donated some money to appease the right wing then to donate for his memorial building. It was her choice. The way Savarkar’s ideology has turned India into Pakistan like country I am afraid honouring Savarkar in any way willdamage more to the country. Savarkar’s ideology is based on terrorism that is unpardonable.

  14. I fail to understand why every so called Sikular journalist wanted to revive Sonia – Rahul Khongress. ….. Are you paying back for your obligations of UPA time….. How you all have forget the corruption by Gandhis during 10 long years of UPA or for that matter Super PM role played by NAC by downgrading selected PM…. Tearing of Ordinance in public by Pappu was the biggest mockery of the parliamentary democracy. … Still so called Sikular journalists want SoGa – RaGa to rise instead of opposition party to stand against BJP…..

    Pseudo Journos….

  15. First of all, this is a BJP master stroke that it demanded Bharat Ratna to not only Savarkar but also to Phules and Sathe as well covering the full spectrum of Maharashatra social reformers who contributed immensely to the social transformation. Of them, Savarkar was also a unique- an ideologue, a fierce nationalist, poet, writer etc. In this background, MMS put it absolutely correctly that Congress has no issues with Savarkar except for his ideology. His contribution to fight against British cannot be anyway diminished just because Gandhi is “Father of our Nation”. We have to give due recognition to all those who contributed to attaining freedom whether we agree with their views fully or or partially or not at all. In that sense, ignored ones like Ambedkar, Bose, Patel have got their Bharat Ratnas except Savarkar. It is time he gets it and particularly when BJP is in power, whether Congress likes it or not. That said, Shekhar (actually, Chari) is spot on when he says that Indira never ceded Hindu space to BJP but Sonia did as Congress turned left under the influence of left liberals. BJP has Congress in an uncomfortable situation with this masterstroke! It is to be noted that NCP has not made much noise about this issue and cleverly skirted it. Apart from politics, Damodar Vinayak Savarkar deserves Bharat Ratna without an idota of doubt. Those who still do not agree with this, should read more about him and understand him. We have hardly had a leader of his vision on strong nationalism and building up of a modern “Hindu” society on scientific principles.

  16. For the first time you have made some sense impartially and objectively otherwise you were always seen as an admirer of our great unteachable dynast. Indian will stay united under Modiji, will eliminate all negative forces and dynastic political parties and so called elite journalism with its selective reporting…

  17. Indira Gandhi’s giving space to Savarkar, like issuing a stamp in his name etc, was plainly a mistake. Even if it is suggested that she was trying to “appropriate” BJP’s only leader who could be connected with the freedom movement, even if very remotely. Present Congress leadership should accept it as such, instead of trying to defend their late leader by inventing convoluted arguments s to see merit in her act. That will do them a great favour, by implying consistency and honesty in their stand.

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