| President APJ Abdul Kalam unveils a portrait of Veer Savarkar at the Central Hall in Parliament on Wednesday. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Manohar Joshi, AB Vajpayee and LK Advani look on. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Feb. 26: For the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena, the installation of Veer Savarkar’s portrait in Parliament’s Central Hall was a moment of glory.
As President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam unveiled the portrait this afternoon, BJP and Sena members shouted: “Jab tak suraj chand rahega, Savarkar tera naam rahega (As long as the sun and moon shine, Savarkar your name will live).”
The Opposition boycotted the unveiling, barring Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson and senior Congress MP Najma Heptullah, who accompanied Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi. But deputy Speaker and Congress leader P.M. Sayeed skipped the ceremony.
The BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance, however, showed up in large numbers to lend support to the government’s decision.
Yesterday, Opposition leaders had urged the President not to unveil the portrait, saying Savarkar was accused in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and had begged the British for mercy. But Kalam went ahead with the programme as scheduled, even certifying the ideologue of Hindu rashtra a “great nationalist”.
Vajpayee, Advani and parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj placed flowers before Savarkar’s portrait. Kalam presented its artist Chandrakala Kumar Kadam with a shawl.
Later, BJP parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said: “We are grateful to the President. He rejected the Opposition’s demand and unveiled the portrait. The President has honoured the sentiment of the country and enhanced Parliament’s prestige.”
Malhotra also took a jibe at Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, saying her attitude had hurt the entire country.
Petroleum minister Ram Naik criticised the CPM and its MP Somnath Chatterjee, saying he had committed a “monumental error”. “The Opposition’s attitude is uncalled for and it shows their disrespect for the sacrifices made by freedom fighters,” he said. Naik had petitioned former Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi in 2000 to put up Savarkar’s portrait in the Central Hall.
In the Lok Sabha, the Opposition shouted down BJP MPs when they tried to raise the issue. Proceedings were disrupted for about 10 minutes.