Freedom fighters, historians oppose move

NEW DELHI FEB. 25. Can the portrait of a man who pledged fealty to the British, propounded the two-nation theory and was implicated in the plot to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi, hang alongside national heroes in the Central Hall of Parliament? The question is being asked on the eve of the installation of the Hindu Mahasabha leader, V.D. Savarkar's portrait in Parliament.

At a press conference in the Capital today, historians, freedom fighters and civil society groups presented a case against Savarkar being clubbed with the heroes of the Independence movement whose portraits hang in Parliament.

The anti-communalism group, Sahmat, said Savarkar's claim to recognition as a patriot and freedom fighter, "ended ignominiously within months of his incarceration in the Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands." He sent mercy petitions to the British authorities in 1911 promising "the staunchest loyalty to the British Government" in exchange for his release. Savarkar, in the petition, also expressed his willingness to "serve the [British] Government in any capacity".

The Delhi Historians Group said that Savarkar also propounded the two-nation theory. In 1937, three years before Jinnah, he wrote "I warn the Hindus that the Mohammedans are likely to prove dangerous to our Hindu Nation. We Hindus must have a country of our own in the Solar system." In 1943, he declared that he "has no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah" on this subject.

Savarkar, named as a conspirator in Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, was not convicted, not because of lack of evidence but because of a "technicality" said lawyer Anil Nauriya.

In a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on February 27, 1948, Sardar Patel, then Deputy Prime Minister, wrote: "It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy and saw it through."

Vishwanath Mathur, a freedom fighter who did time in Port Blair's Cellular Jail for his part in the anti-colonial movement, said Parliament's decision mocked the sacrifice of those who died for Independence. Savarkar, he said, was a "coward being portrayed as a revolutionary".

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