A screenshot of the cover of Antim Jan featuring Savarkar. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The national memorial and museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi has brought out a special edition of its monthly magazine dedicated to Hindutva leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar – a choice that has sparked criticism from Gandhians and Opposition leaders.

The June issue of Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti’s (GSDS) Hindi language magazine, Antim Jan, features Savarkar on the cover and articles re-printed from the works of Gandhi on religious tolerance, Savarkar on Hindutva and late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Savarkar. A portion from Savarkar’s book Hindutva has been adapted for an article with the same title. It also includes articles by other writers on “Deshbhakt Savarkar” (patriot Savarkar) and “Veer Savarkar and Mahatma Gandhi”. An article by the editor of the magazine, Praveen Dutt Sharma, titled “Gandhi ka Gussa” (Gandhi’s anger) has been included as well.

GSDS vice-chairperson Vijay Goel told The Hindu on Friday that the magazine’s theme was dedicated to Savarkar as it was his birth anniversary on May 28. “Veer Savarkar was a great man. So was Gandhi, so was Patel. We have to learn from their sacrifice. No one else spent as much time behind bars as Savarkar during the British rule.”

Asked about the controversy surrounding Savarkar’s mercy petitions to the British while in jail, Mr. Goel said the issue was always raised by “those who have not sacrificed at all”. He added that the magazine would continue to publish special issues dedicated to freedom fighters and the August issue would have the theme of ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ to mark 75 years of Independence.

The GSDS, which is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, oversees Gandhi Smriti – the home on Tees January Marg where Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 and converted into a museum dedicated to him – and Gandhi Darshan, which is the memorial at Rajghat.

Reacting to the magazine’s theme, Tushar Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson and author of Let’s Kill Gandhi!: A Chronicle of His Last Days, the Conspiracy, Murder, Investigation, Trials and the Kapur Commission said it was a travesty.

“It is going to happen more and more with this administration that is controlling the Gandhian institutions. That is where the danger of political ideology overpowering the ideology of Gandhi exists. We have been protesting against that. It also shows their desperation to equate Savarkar with Gandhi. It shows how frivolous and shaky their conviction about Savarkar is. This is all very planned strategy of corrupting Gandhian ideology and creating a new narrative which is convenient for the present regime,” Mr. Gandhi said.

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the Centre was trying to subvert the institution of Gandhi Smriti like it was doing to other institutions. “Savarkar is being lionised. This is the agenda of the RSS. But history speaks volumes of Savarkar’s stand towards British imperialism. The history of the country is being distorted to satisfy the present government. This is very unfortunate.”

Author and journalist Dhirendra K Jha, whose recent work Gandhi’s Assassin: The Making Of Nathuram Godse And His Idea Of India discusses the conspiracy behind Gandhi’s murder, said Savarkar was an accused in Gandhi’s assassination, although he was let off because charges against him were not corroborated.

“But at that time, the conspiracy angle of Gandhi’s murder was not investigated properly. Kapur Commission of enquiry to investigate the conspiracy behind the murder of Gandhi was set up much later in 1966. The commission clearly said that Savarkar and a group of people under him planned to kill Gandhi. The benefit of doubt Savarkar got during the murder trial should not be seen as complete acquittal for Savarkar,” Mr. Jha said.

This article first appeared in thehindu.com