A host of student organisations invited various academicians for a ‘public talk’ on the legacies of Bhagat Singh and VD Savarkar on 28th August.
The controversy about the busts of VD Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Bhagat Singh – which were installed, and then removed from the University campus – might have subsided, but the ideological clash still seems to be alive.
Various student parties and collectives – like Parivartankami Chhatra Sangathan (Pachhas), All India Students’ Association (AISA), Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Bhagat Singh Chhatra Ekta Manch (BSCEM), Pinjra Tod, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS), and others – held a public talk titled ‘Bhagat Singh Ya Savarkar: Tay Karo Kis Ore Ho Tum (Bhagat Singh or Sarvarkar, decide which side you are on)’. Eminent historian S. Irfan Habib, author, former DU professors Shamsul Islam and Madhu Prasad, and Jagmohan Singh, author and nephew of Bhagat Singh, were present as guest speakers at the event, which was marked by sloganeering, songs and condemnation of Savarkar’s ideology and actions.
“Sacrilege to club all three together”
Mr. Habib, whose work has been instrumental in transforming the perception about Bhagat Singh – from one limited to just a martyr to one of a revolutionary thinker – pointed out the different style of politics practised by Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose on the one hand, and VD Savarkar on the other. He said that while Savarkar’s supporters can push him independently, it was a sacrilege to club all three together.
Responding to the claims of many supporters of Savarkar that Bhagat Singh had praised his work, Mr. Habib said that while this was true, Bhagat Singh’s approbation was limited only to a few lines about Savarkar’s book on the revolt of 1857, and not about the latter’s political thought.
“Angrezon ka dalal”
The author of over half a dozen books on Savarkar, Golwalkar, Hindu nationalism, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS), Dr. Shamsul Islam seemed especially scathing in his critique of the father of the Hindutva thought. Keeping a bunch of documents and papers handy with himself as evidence, Dr. Islam went over the mercy petitions that Savarkar had sent to the British officials while being imprisoned in the Cellular Jail in Port Blair.
He further said that Savarkar had sabotaged the Quit India Movement and helped the British by training “thousands of Hindus to join the British army,” while the Hindu Mahasabha had formed coalition government with the Muslim League in four provinces. He repeatedly made an appeal for state-funded publication of all of Savarkar’s writings and them being made compulsory readings in schools and colleges; the purpose behind this, as he highlighted, was that it would lead to a supposed exposé of Hindutva organisations. “Don’t install Savarkar’s bust, publish his writings,” was his call.
The other two speakers, Mr. Singh and Ms. Prasad also contrasted the life and legacies of Savarkar and Bhagat Singh. The former said that Bhagat Singh wanted to bring Inquilab in people’s lives, while calling for usage of the complete slogan “Samrajyavad murdabad, inquilab zindabad.” Ms. Singh urged the audience to stop using the title “Veer” for Savarkar. “Ye kaayar they aur hain (they were and are cowards)” she said.
Despite the eminence of the speakers present at the event, the public meeting seemed to speak in one tone: a unanimous condemnation of Savarkar. At one level, that state of affairs can be understood; the organisers of the public meet do not subscribe to Savarkar’s ideology. Just like an event organised by supporters of Savarkar might be expected to be in his favour, one organised by critics would raise their voice against him. But would it have been a better, more educational experience to organise a debate with representatives of both sides instead?
When we posed this question to Deepak Gupta of Pachhas, one of the main organisers of the event, he replied, “Aapko aisa lagta hai ki jo debate ki jagah maar-peet karte hain wo aise program ko hone denge? (Do you think those who prefer violence over debate will let such a program happen?)”
A similar sentiment was voiced by Dr. Islam, “Wo aayenge nahi (they won’t come)”, he said, while alleging that Hindutva organisations and their supporters hide their original documents whilst he keeps publishing them.
Feature Image credits: Prateek Pankaj for DU Beat