When Fadnavis spoke up for Mahatma Gandhi

Maharashtra's Dy CM has no choice but to act against his party's own ideologues

Devendra Fadnavis (Photo: NH File Photo)
Devendra Fadnavis (Photo: NH File Photo)

Sujata Anandan

It was never going to be easy for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to sup at the same table as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), whether the Ajit Pawar faction or even the original Party of Sharad Pawar.

As a result, in the past week they had to sacrifice and abandon two of their own party ideologues in the interest of keeping the peace with Ajit Pawar and saving their government.

The first of these two incidents concerns a little known Indologist who has been accused of making salacious and defamatory statements against Savitrabai Phule, a national icon and pioneer in female education in the country. An FIR  has been lodged against this self-proclaimed historian by the name of Bharadwaj who stands accused of unpardonable statements against Savitribai Phule.

Those statements were first spotted on two right wing websites, Indic Tales and Hindu Post, in March this year but they had remained in full evidence for over a year with both websites alleging that the British patronised Savitribai because she gave them access to little girls at her school.

Once the statement was noticed and the united NCP, including Ajit Pawar, had taken to the streets, an FIR was lodged against both websites who, in face of the unexpected action, promptly passed the blame on to Bharadwaj admitting to have taken the entire text from his blog on the subject. Whereupon Bharadwaj lobbed the ball back into the court of the two websites saying they had selectively picked his statements and blown them out of context.

"They took the negative statements and did not balance them off with positive statements as I had," he cribbed as he tried to shrug off the responsibility. However, he could not deny that he had indeed made the unsavory remarks. And given the negative statements were highly unwarranted anyway, the police went ahead and added him to the FIR. Whereupon Bharadwaj apologised to Maharashtra Home Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Twitter and sued for 'clemency' - something in the jurisdiction of the courts to grant and not the police or government which must take action against the offenders.

Moreover, with Chhagan Bhujbal and Dhananjay Munde, the two most prominent OBC leaders in Maharashtra today, being ministers in his government, Fadnavis cannot afford to jeopardise its stability in any way. They were the ones who had filed the original complaint and with Savitribai too a OBC they are determined to see it to the end. In today's time, the OBC vote carries nearly 40 percent of the mandate and Fadnavis cannot afford to alienate them for just one ideologue.

However, it is the second case which has him in a greater bind. Manohar (alias Sambhaji) Bhide, a fiercely right wing provocateur, is now proving a huge thorn in Fadnavis's flesh. Bhide first came into prominence in 2018 when he was accused by several people of fomenting and starting the Bhima-Koregaon riots near Pune.

Recently Prakash Ambedkar, president of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, demanded in an affidavit to the court that action be taken against him and other right-wing ideologues for starting the riots. Members of the Mahar community to which Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr BR Ambedkar, belongs have gathered at the victory memorial at Bhima-Koregaon erected to celebrate the defeat of the Peshwas by the Mahar Regiment of the British Army which war ultimately ceded the last of independently held Indian territory to the colonial rulers.

Celebrating that victory every year is very important to their self esteem and Bhima-Koregaon has become a place of pilgrimage to large sections of the community who gather there on January 1 every year. The year 2018 saw a larger than usual congregation as it was the bicentennial of their victory over the Peshwas. But out of nowhere, riots broke out between modern- day Marathas and Dalits leading to casualties.

However, despite loud clamour by several left of centre parties to arrest Bhide for starting and fomenting the riots, Fadnavis, who was then chief minister of Maharashtra, stood behind him like a rock and took no action.

But last week Bhide went a step too far. At an event in Amravati, he made very salacious and defamatory remarks about the antecedents of Mahatma Gandhi. Having got away with many outrageous statements in the past, he told the gathering, "Karamchand Gandhi was not Mohandas's father. His real father was a Muslim landlord from Gujarat."

Immediately there were howls of protest from not just the Congress and the NCP but also the Ajit Pawar faction which is still hugely dependent on  the Gandhi-Nehru socialist ethos as that of Phule, Shahu and Ambedkar that still prevails across Maharashtra despite the BJP's best efforts at saffronisation, for its vote bank.

As the situation threatened to go out of hand, Fadnavis had no choice but to order action. An FIR was lodged against Bhide in Amravati and Fadnavis said, "I fully condemn the statement of Sambhaji Bhide. Mahatma Gandhi is the Father of the Nation and a Mahanayak of the freedom struggle. Making such a statement against such a Mahanayak is completely unacceptable. No such statement by Sambhaji Bhide or anybody else against Gandhiji will be tolerated."

A statement quite worthy of a patriotic Indian and law abiding citizens believing in the Constitution but one set to ruffle the feathers of his political masters who have no love lost for Gandhiji, have been celebrating his assassin Nathuram Godse and trying their hardest to replace Mahatma Gandhi as the Father of the Nation with Narendra Modi.

Fadnavis, however, tried to balance off his defence of Mahatma Gandhi with a peeved demand of Congress leaders Balasaheb Thorat and Prithviraj Chavan who caused a ruckus in the Assembly over the issue, " If Congress leaders are condemning Bhide, they must also criticise Rahul Gandhi for his remarks against VD Savarkar."  

Quite missing the fact that while he had had to distance his party from Bhide's Shiv Pratishthan because of the obscene nature of Bhide's manufactured story on Gandhiji, Rahul Gandhi had only been quoting stated and proven historical records and none of his remarks against Savarkar were salacious.

Meanwhile, Fadnavis's troubles have not yet ceased. Nana Patole, the Maharashtra Congress chief, has threatened state-wide action against Bhide after the end of its monsoon session in two weeks if Bhide is not arrested by then. The Pawar faction of the NCP has also said it would join the protests and if that happens the Ajit Pawar group could also demand its pound if flesh.

Having to abandon and crucify their ideologues to save a government now highly dependent on NCP stalwarts might yet prove to be the BJP's nemesis in Maharashtra. And Bhide who has been furthering the RSS agenda with impunity all these years might find himself impaled by not the enemy but one of his own.

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