V. D. Savarkar
The plaque carrying Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s name and quotation that was installed at the Cellular Jail in Port Blair by Ram Naik, petroleum minister in Vajpayee’s NDA government, was removed within months of the UPA taking power in 2004. Mani Shankar Aiyar, the UPA’s petroleum minister, played a central role in the plaque’s quick removal.
The BJP vehemently protested against the removal of the plaque. They saw the act as a deliberate attempt to denigrate the memory of Savarkar, a revered Hindutva ideologue and freedom fighter, who was incarcerated at the Cellular Jail from 1911 to 1921. BJP leaders demanded an apology from Aiyar who refused to apologize. The UPA came out in Aiyar’s support—they declared that they were against Savarkar’s political vision. In 2014, the BJP was back in power, and in July 2015, eleven years after the plaque had been removed, it was reinstalled.
The left (UPA, led by the Congress) and the right (NDA, led by the BJP) cannot come to an agreement on Savarkar. Savarkar is controversial because his philosophy of Hindutva is antithetical to the secular and pacifist idealism of Mahatma Gandhi. The clash between Savarkarism and Gandhism began in the first decade of the twentieth century and it continues till this day.
On 24 October 1909, there was an encounter between Mahatma Gandhi and Savarkar at a public meeting in London to celebrate the festival of Vijayadashami. This was their second meeting—they had first met in October 1906, at Shyamji Krishna Varma’s India House. In his address at the meeting, Gandhiji praised the “pacifist virtues” of Lord Rama. He talked about the extreme suffering that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana endured for twelve years. He preached that Indians will become free men when they learn to be pacifists like Rama and they develop the capacity to endure terrible sufferings for years.
Then it was Savarkar’s turn to speak. In his speech, he tried to refute everything that Gandhiji had said during his speech.
Savarkar said that the festival of Vijayadashami is preceded by Navaratri—which entails nine days of festivities and fasting for propitiating Goddess Durga, who symbolizes bravery, strength, and victory over evil. He agreed with Gandhiji that Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana represent the Indian ideal for perfect life, and that Rama Rajya is the ideal of a perfectly just political system. But he reminded his audience that before Lord Rama could establish Rama Rajya, he had to wage a war to kill the demon king Ravana, who symbolized tyranny and injustice.
Savarkar added: “Hindus are the heart of Hindustan. Nevertheless, just as the beauty of the rainbow is enhanced by its varied hues, Hindustan will appear more beautiful across the sky of future if it assimilated all that was best in Muslim, Parsee, Jewish and other communities.” (This account of the speeches by Gandhiji and Savarkar is given in two books: Gandhi: An Illustrated Biography, by Pramod Kapoor, and Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past, by Vikram Sampath.)