Mumbai: Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar created a flutter in political circles Thursday by garlanding the portrait of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar at Mantralaya on the 137th birth anniversary of the Hindutva ideologue.
Pawar is the first leader from the NCP — an ally in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra — to officially garland the Savarkar portrait.
The Shiv Sena and the Congress are the other constituents of the alliance, with the former’s chief Uddhav Thackeray leading the government.
The function in Maharashtra would have gone unnoticed but for echoes of a Congress protest in Bengaluru being heard in Maharashtra. The Congress, which is a staunch opponent of Savarkar’s ideology, has vociferously protested the renaming of the Yelahanka flyover in the Karnataka capital as Veer Savarkar flyover in the last few days.
Objecting to the B.S. Yediyurappa-led BJP government’s move to rename the flyover, Congress leader and former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah termed it as an insult to the freedom fighters from the state.
In Maharashtra, the Congress didn’t immediately react to Pawar’s official act. But the party patronised National Herald newspaper tweeted, “Even in #Maharashtra #Savarkar has been a controversial personality with even the father of #Uddhav Thackeray accusing him of promoting falsehood and Brahmanism”.
— National Herald (@NH_India) May 28, 2020
The other member of the Maharashtra government, Shiv Sena, has for long been demanding Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, to Savarkar.
Speaking to ThePrint, senior Maharashtra cabinet minister and NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said Pawar’s act was part of protocol as he dismissed anything more to it. “Ajit Pawar is the deputy chief minister. He garlanded the photograph as it was Savarkar’s birth anniversary today and it is the protocol of the Maharashtra government,” said Malik.
“The ideological differences with Savarkar are there but the government protocols have to be followed,” he added.
The politics of the act
Political analyst Sandeep Pradhan said there is much significance to Deputy CM Ajit Pawar’s action of today.
“This is the same Ajit Pawar who went to Raj Bhavan early in the morning and took oath along with Devendra Fadnavis. So today’s garlanding of the Savarkar photo speaks volumes,” said Pradhan, referring to the drama that played out last year before the three parties had formed an alliance.
“On the other hand, he is also giving the message that this government led by the Shiv Sena is stable and the NCP is endorsing the Shiv Sena’s views on Savarkar. The NCP has been on the same page as the Shiv Sena on many counts. The garlanding indicates it,” said Pradhan.
He added that the reaction of the Congress will be important as it is opposed to Savarkar.
However, Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant told ThePrint, “We oppose Savarkar’s ideology and strongly oppose his views. But we do not oppose him as a person. Hence, if someone wants to garland his photograph, why should we have any objection?”
The BJP did not get officially drawn into the “garlanding politics” but a senior party leader wondered whether the Congress will leave the Maha Vikas Aghadi government now.
“In Bengaluru, the Congress is protesting that the flyover has been named after Savarkar. In Mumbai, the deputy chief minister of the government who they partner is garlanding Savarkar’s photo and they are quiet. This is hypocrisy. Rahul Gandhi should clarify on this,” said the leader.
A second senior BJP leader said this act of Pawar holds particular significance as he is reiterating the message that he continues to be close to the BJP. “Ajit Pawar is our ally. He is a dependable ally. Going to Mantralaya and garlanding the photograph of Swantantraveer Savarkar is not a stray act. This is his way of telling us that he is an ally,” said the leader.
‘Not Rahul Savarkar’
In December 2019, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi had raised a political storm with his “I am Rahul Gandhi not Rahul Savarkar” jibe. At the time, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was barely a month into the coalition.
An angry Shiv Sena had then warned Gandhi over his controversial comments on V.D. Savarkar. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar had then downplayed the entire issue, stating that everyone had great respect for Savarkar, but the BJP should first answer why Savarkar was not conferred the Bharat Ratna in the last five years despite two requests for it before the Narendra Modi government.
The BJP had then aggressively pushed for a motion to honour Savarkar in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on the occasion of his death anniversary.
This demand was rejected by Speaker Nana Patole, who had held that it was against the rules. Pawar had questioned the BJP on the reasons for the Fadnavis government not moving the said motion despite being in power for five years.