Elections require comic relief. This has arrived in the BJP manifesto in Maharashtra, which has promised to confer the Bharat Ratna to its ideological father, Vinayak Damodar “Veer” Savarkar, and three others: Jyotiba Phule, a dalit icon; Savitribai Phule, an OBC social reformer, gender activist and educationist; and Tukaram Bhaurao “Annabhau” Sathe, the father of dalit literature. One wonders if promising the Bharat Ratna violates the Election Commission’s model code, especially if it’s just a disguised caste-based appeal. If a potential Bharat Ratna is announced, then could not the BJP also have offered a potential solution to the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank crisis that led to the tragic deaths of three retail depositors? (The BJP merely bought itself time by saying the model code prevents it from doing so.)
Some of us might applaud this announcement of the intention to bestow the Bharat Ratna on Veer Savarkar, best known outside of the Hindutva crowd for historic achievements like getting arrested and being accused of conspiring in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi; for being president of the Hindu Mahasabha when it openly opposed the “Quit India” movement; and for writing six mercy petitions to the British after they threw him into the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Indeed, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government tried to give him the Bharat Ratna in 2000, but it was rejected by then President K.R. Narayanan. Some might applaud this move not because they like what Savarkar stood for, but as they think the Bharat Ratna is unnecessary and over-politicised, and has only debased in value over the years due to indiscriminate bestowal. Honouring Savarkar will only hasten that process.