iconimg Friday, September 04, 2015

Press Trust Of India
New Delhi, September 09, 2004
Talking to Vir Sanghvi, Petroleum Minister Manishankar Aiyar said only Ram Naik can think of the Quit India movement without Gandhiji.

Are you surprised by the controversy set off by your actions?
Yes. I thought that the issue was Gandhiji. They are making out that the issue is Savarkar. All I have done is rectified the NDA's insult to Gandhiji.

Explain that.
The controversy is about the eternal flame which is called the Swatantra Jyot. It is not called the Savarkar Jyot or the Shahid Jyot. I find it extraordinary that a Swatantra Jyot should make no mention of Gandhiji.

I was lighting the flame on 9 August, which is the anniversary of Quit India — which Savarkar, incidentally, described as Split India — and I said in my speech that Gandhiji's slogan was Karenge Ya Marenge. It was not Karenge Ya Maarenge.

Only Ram Naik and the Sangh Parivar with their distorted view of history can think of the Quit India movement or even, of the freedom struggle, without according central place to Gandhiji.

What did you say about Savarkar?
I said nothing about him in my speech at the function. Nor did Lt. Governor Ram Kapse mention him. Afterwards, there was a press conference. Once again, nobody asked me about Savarkar and nor did I mention him.

After the press conference, a TV reporter asked my views on Savarkar. I said that my views were well known but whatever I had said or written about Savarkar was in my capacity as a free individual. Now, as a member of the Council of Ministers, I was bound by the views of the Cabinet.

I was asked if I still opposed the renaming of Port Blair airport after Savarkar and I confirmed that while I had certainly written this, I was now bound by the Cabinet's view on the subject.

When I was asked about Shahid Park, I said that the Shahid Park was dedicated to those who had been made shahid during the freedom struggle or at the Cellular Jail itself. It would diminish the memory of the martyrs if it also included people who had not actually been martyred. For instance, Savarkar did not die in the Andamans or even during the freedom struggle but died 20 years after independence of natural causes at home at the ripe old age of 83.

He was, of course, a freedom fighter. But happily, he was not martyred.

Why did you remove the plaque dedicated to his memory?
The Swatantra Jyot is mounted on a plinth that has four sides. On all four sides are plaques dedicated to the freedom struggle. Two of the plaques commemorate Madanlal Dhingra and Bhagat Singh, both renowned shahids. A third plaque contains several stirring patriotic sayings. Bizarrely, there was no mention at all of Gandhiji.

I thought it essential that we had a plaque recording Gandhiji's contribution to the freedom struggle. But there was no fifth side to put a plaque.

The only way we could have accommodated this plaque was by removing one of the existing plaques. The fourth plaque remembered Bahadur Shah Zafar and Savarkar and that was the one I removed.

Do you regret that?
Certainly not. As a patriotic Indian I was appalled to find a representation of our freedom struggle that completely ignored Gandhiji. As a responsible citizen, it was my duty to undo the insult to the father of the nation.

I'm proud to have done that.