The busts of revolutionary-turned-Hindutva theorist Vinayak Savarkar and freedom fighters Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh vanished overnight in Delhi University (DU), the same way they had been installed in a post-midnight operation.
At 3.55am on Saturday, Siddharth Yadav, secretary of the Delhi unit of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) — the student arm of the BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — wrote on a WhatsApp group for journalists that the busts had been removed by the DU Students’ Union (DUSU), on an assurance from varsity officials.
The officials, he said, had assured “that the reinstallation of these busts will be done by required process after (the) DUSU poll (on September 12)”.
DUSU president Shakti Singh of the ABVP had installed the busts outside the arts faculty on the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday.
That came after the varsity administration did not accept the ABVP-led DUSU’s demand for installing the statues, although the Sangh’s student wing distanced itself from Singh’s act.
Aakash Choudhary, DUSU secretary of the Congress’s National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), had complained against the act but varsity officials and police did not respond.
ABVP leader Yadav in a statement condemned rival organisations linked to the Congress, the Left parties and the Aam Aadmi Party for “insulting freedom fighters”.
NSUI Delhi president Akshay Lakra had garlanded Savarkar’s bust with footwear and blackened it amid a scuffle with varsity guards before dawn on Thursday.
“Busts have been kept safe by the University of Delhi,” Yadav added. “In this context, as soon as ABVP became aware of the installation of statues, they asked DUSU to set up the statues as per the procedure of the University.”
However, Singh wrote on Facebook: “The university administration at night deceptively removed the busts installed by DUSU. This is an insult to martyrs and I appeal to the university’s students and people from across the country to speak out against this wrong act.”
Varsity officials did not comment. Neither the ABVP nor the DUSU responded to queries on where the marble busts are. The sandstone pedestal they had been placed on has been rolled into a corner and covered by cement bags and tarpaulin outside the arts faculty.
“This episode is another example of the ABVP’s and the RSS’s ideology and politics,” Ruchi Gupta, the All India Congress Committee joint secretary in charge of the NSUI, told reporters, slamming “the veneration of a traitor and antinational individual who was implicated in Gandhi’s assassination”. Savarkar was acquitted for want of evidence.
Savarkar had written mercy petitions to the British while in jail and had opposed the Quit India movement.
“First, the veneration of a traitor and antinational individual who was implicated in Gandhi’s assassination (but acquitted for want of evidence), opposed the Quit India movement and wrote multiple mercy petitions to the British swearing allegiance to our colonial aggressors. Second, the search for respectability and legitimacy by equating their ‘leaders’ with real freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose. Third, complete thuggery and utter disregard for rules or due process of putting up such a bust on the university premises under cover of night without permission,” Gupta added.
“The principled opposition by the NSUI and the natural outrage by students and the general public alike have compelled the taking down of the statue.”
The campus has been tense with protests and scuffles between the ABVP and other groups over the week, in which the police had intervened.
Savarkar had spent 14 years in prison for abetting the murder of a British official, a period when he coined the term “Hindutva” in 1923 and wrote three mercy petitions pledging to help the government.
He opposed the Quit India movement and asked Hindus to join the armed forces to learn the “arts of war”.
Swali Prakash, president of the CPIML-Liberation’s All India Students’ Association’s DU unit — which protested against the installation — said: “While the country is going through an extraordinary economic crisis, the ABVP is in no dearth of money to spend for its election campaign. Student rights are clearly not in their agenda. Thus, the gimmick of setting up Savarkar’s statue hidden behind Bhagat Singh’s and Netaji Subhas Bose’s to divert attention was needed.”