Gujarat Chief Minister in fresh history battle

New Delhi Bureau
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BJP founding father Shyama Prasad Mookherjee was “proud son of Gujarat”, Narendra Modi claimed in speech

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has opened up a fresh battle over his understanding of history, confusing the BJP’s founding patriarch with a Gujarati freedom fighter in a keynote speech delivered at a hospital inauguration at Kheda on Sunday.

Describing Shyama Prasad Mookherjee as a “proud son of Gujarat,” Mr. Modi credited him with setting up the radical “India House in London under the very noses of the English.” “He was considered the Guru of the Indian revolutionaries,” he said. “He died in 1930, but before he did so, he expressed the wish that his ashes be kept carefully so they could be returned to a free India.”

Dr. Mookherjee, however, was born in Kolkata, not Gujarat; died in 1953, not 1930; passed away in India; and was cremated in West Bengal. Mr. Modi’s reference was in fact to Shyamaji Krishna Verma, a Sanskrit scholar and nationalist born in Gujarat’s Mandvi city on October 4, 1857. In 1877, Verma became the first non-Brahmin to be accorded the honorific ‘Pandit’ by the Pandits of Kashi. He later founded India House in London — an incubator for such revolutionaries as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Bhikaji Cama, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya and Lala Hardayal.

Mr. Modi had brought back Mr. Verma’s ashes to Gujarat from Switzerland in 2003, according to Gujarat Tourism’s website.

Dr. Mookherjee, however, served as Minister for Industry and Supply in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet. He quit the Congress and founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh — the BJP’s ancestor — in 1951. He was jailed in 1953 while protesting against restrictions on the entry of Indian nationals into Jammu and Kashmir and died in prison. He is venerated as a martyr by the BJP.

Mr. Modi’s faux-pas comes days after he said the ancient university of Takshashila was Bihar — whereas it was, in fact, in what is now Pakistan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responded: “Over-excited BJP leaders change history and geography of the country.” In Sunday’s speech, Mr. Modi hit back at the Prime Minister, blaming the Congress for Partition. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said Sunday’s speech showed the BJP was trying to “deny its parentage and invent a new ancestry.” “The history of the BJP, as told by Narendra-ji Modi, must have poor Shyama Prasad Mookherjee turning in his grave,” he said.

However, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitaraman, said Mr. Modi quickly corrected his error. “Inside of a minute of Mr. Modi’s speech, he came back to the podium and said he had erred,” she said.

In a videotape, Mr. Modi is seen receiving a note from an aide, following which he corrected himself.

BJP founding father Shyama Prasad Mookherjee was “proud son of Gujarat,” Narendra Modi claimed in speech

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