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Late rush to keep Savarkar out

New Delhi, Feb. 25: Three months after a parliamentary panel cleared the proposal for a portrait of controversial “Hindu Rashtra” ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in Parliament’s Central Hall, the Opposition today urged the President to slam the brakes on it.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has, however, decided to go ahead with the unveiling ceremony scheduled for tomorrow.

Ironically, the joint parliamentary committee for installation of statues and portraits — which had given the go-ahead — included Opposition leaders Shivraj Patil and Pranab Mukherjee (Congress) and Somnath Chatterjee (CPM). None of them present at the December 5 meeting when the decision was taken had raised objections.

“I am sorry. I admit it was a mistake then. I asked the Speaker where is the space for putting up a portrait in the Central Hall but did not raise any objection. After all, there is a decorum,” Chatterjee said at a briefing today.

But Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy refused to admit it was a mistake. Dodging a clear reply, he said: “In parliamentary committees, none of us function as party members. I cannot make a comment.”

The government, however, grabbed the opportunity to turn the tables on the Opposition, saying its silence was tantamount to consensus. Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said: “Nobody from the BJP was present at the meeting on December 5. The decision was taken on the basis of a consensus evolved by the Opposition. There is no point in disrupting the function now.”

Earlier, Opposition leaders — from the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties — wrote a letter to Kalam, pleading that the ceremony be put off.

“It will be a great tragedy if the Central Hall of Parliament is utilised for installing a portrait of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who was not only accused in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case, but supported the two-nation theory of Jinnah.

“We appeal to you to please reconsider your kind decision of attending the ceremony, so that the highest secular traditions of our country, as enshrined in our Constitution, are protected in letter and spirit,” they wrote.

The leaders also resolved to stay away from the function. “Our dissociation is on principle and may not be treated as personal disrespect to you,” they wrote.

In a separate letter to the President, Sonia Gandhi said: “We believe that in view of the serious controversy this has provoked, you may reconsider your decision.” Explaining her party’s decision to stay away, she added: “We mean no discourtesy to you but the feelings of the Congress are unanimous in this matter.”

The Opposition’s letter to the President highlighted Savarkar’s contention that “Hindus are a nation and India should be a Hindu Rashtra”. It also underlined that the guru of Hindutva had “submitted a mercy petition to the British authorities pledging loyalty to the British Raj”.

Protests against the installation also came from historians, freedom fighters and lawyers.

Ninety-year-old Vishwanath Mathur, a former member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, said: “This government is determined to legitimise a symbol of national shame. Not only did he beg for mercy from the British and was an accused in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case, he was also a proponent of the two nation theory.”

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