The BJP’s manifesto for the forthcoming Maharashtra Assembly polls promises to consider conferring the Bharat Ratna, which is India’s highest civilian honour, on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (also called Veer Savarkar), the proponent of Hindutva ideology. Savarkar has been glorified by a significant section in Maharashtra including the Shiv Sena, BJP’s ally in the state, as well as other Savarkarites who often cite his patriotism because of the time he spent in the Cellular Jail (also known as “Kala Pani”) in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. But Savarkar’s critics also ridicule him for the letters he wrote to the British seeking clemency.
Both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Savarkarites consider him to be the father of Hindu nationalism, but the RSS has often distanced itself from the Hindu Mahasabha, which Savarkar led for six years from 1937.
Why has Maharashtra BJP, which is extremely confident of winning the October 21 polls, promised that it would initiate efforts to confer the Bharat Ratna on Savarkar?
The main reason for this announcement appears to be the BJP’s desire to maintain its proprietary hold on Hindutva politics. Neither the BJP nor the RSS want any other organisation – be it political or non-political – to share this space of Hindutva ideology politics.
A political observer, who has long experience working closely with the RSS, pointed out that it is not the BJP or the RSS people who get immediately provoked by an attack on Savarkar. “It’s the fringe elements. Any criticism of Savarkar or belittling his sacrifice makes the other camps raise its voice. They do not have any political clout, but speak loudly,” he said.
However, the leadership of both the BJP and the RSS have made it clear that they do not want these fringe elements to go beyond a point and infringe on the space they occupy.
This move – Bharat Ratna for Savarkar – would please the Shiv Sainiks while placating the RSS and BJP followers of Savarkar.
Moreover, it’s also a move for the BJP to elevate its ideologues to the status of national icons. The RSS has never hidden its uneasiness in glorifying only certain leaders of India’s freedom struggle. In his recent book The RSS: Roadmaps for The 21st Century, Sunil Ambekar refers to K B Hedgewar’s objection to making the freedom struggle personality-centric (Gandhi-centric) rather than ideology-centric. The Sangh also disliked Gandhi’s approach to the Hindu-Muslim issue. Many in the RSS strongly believe that Mahatma Gandhi’s glorification eclipsed many leaders including Subhash Chandra Bose and Savarkar.
The Sangh, which strongly believes that the history of pre-independence India will never be complete without Savarkar, has been making several attempts to add its leaders to the national list of icons. In his first Vijayadashami address after the BJP stormed to power in 2014, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had indicated that the Sangh wanted to bring its ideology and icons into the mainstream and “correct the misconceptions” about the outfit.
Conferring Bharat Ratna on Veer Savarkar would be a part of its attempts to elevate the stature of its leaders.