The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it would appear, has run out of ideas. After promising everything to everyone in the past several elections, it is now forced to hold the carrot of a ‘Bharat Ratna’ for Savarkar, Savitri Bai Phule and Jyotiba Phule to woo voters in Maharashtra. Its old and somehow forgotten promises to double the income of farmers, etc. are no longer enough, it would seem. BJP’s expertise in appealing to popular sentiment is now well known and several political pundits seem to believe that the promise made in the party’s manifesto in Maharashtra is indeed another ‘masterstroke’.
The party no doubt will promise a Bharat Ratna to Babu Kunwar Singh when Assembly elections are held in Bihar. It would also undoubtedly find other deserving, more deserving or less deserving personalities in other states for bestowing similar honour. It is pointless to ask why the promise was not made during the Lok Sabha election or before the last Assembly election in Maharashtra. It is equally pointless to ask why the BJP has never demanded a Bharat Ratna for Shaheed Bhagat Singh or why it has raised the demand when the world is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Savarkar, after all, was suspected to have been involved in the conspiracy to assassinate the Mahatma. And several historians have pointed out that Savarkar knew of the plot and had blessed the assassin. It is also ironical that the BJP should club Savarkar, the proponent of Hindutva, with social reformers Savitribai and Jyotiba Phule, who worked and wrote extensively against caste system and untouchability besides women’s empowerment. Given the BJP’s track record in not honouring its own promise of women’s reservation and the unusually high number of BJP leaders accused of violence against women, one is left to wonder how the two social reformers would have reacted, had they been around. The promise suspiciously looks like a ploy to divert people’s attention from more pressing issues.
Savarkar no doubt spent 13 years in Cellular Jail at Port Blair. But so did hundreds of other freedom fighters, many of them for a much longer period. Indeed, many of these freedom fighters were tortured and executed there while scores of them died, unable to bear the torture. A large number of these freedom fighters were from Bengal and some of them wrote about the discriminatory treatment given to Savarkar who did not undergo the same level of torture as them. Indeed, there are public records to suggest that Savarkar wrote not one but several mercy petitions, asking to be let off. He promised collaboration with British rulers and indeed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh took no part in the struggle for freedom.
For the BJP, therefore, to promise the Bharat Ratna to Savarkar should come as no surprise. After all, the BJP has not only installed a portrait of Savarkar in Parliament but has also taken no action against one of its own MPs who publicly hailed Mahatma’s assassin Nathuram Godse as a hero. The whataboutery of other past governments having misused civilian awards to humour their own cannot whitewash the BJP’s brazen move to honour Savarkar even as the world is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. While it is a pity that the Bharat Ratna, conferred over the years on people like Nelson Mandela, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mother Teresa, is reduced to cynical, political one-upmanship at election time, such shenanigans by ruling parties cannot be stopped unless Parliament lays down rules to govern such civilian awards. Meanwhile, the Government can explore the feasibility of conferring the award on the BJP for all its achievements, howsoever dubious.