Congress leader Rahul Gandhi comment that he will not apologies because he is “not Savarkar” has led to a unity of sorts between rivals Uddhav Thackeray, the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and Eknath Shinde, the current Chief Minister who heads the original Shiv Sena after revolting against Mr.Thackeray.
Mr Gandhi is no longer a Lok Sabha MP after his conviction in a criminal defamation case for asking if those with the surname “Modi” were “thieves”, which the BJP alleged was derogatory to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) community.
When asked whether he would apologise, Mr Gandhi told reporters on Saturday, “My name is not Savarkar. I am a Gandhi. I won’t apologise.” The Congress leader’s allusion was to the Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar, who sent mercy petitions to the British when he was jailed in the Andamans during the freedom struggle.
Savarkar is an important figure for the Sena, which is why earlier today Mr Thackeray’s faction members went wearing black to a meeting called by their Maharashtra ally Congress to show their disagreement.
This evening, Mr Shinde, in a rare move that aligned with his rival Mr Thackeray’s stand, also launched a fresh attack on Mr Gandhi over this comment on Savarkar.
“The citizens of Maharashtra are upset with what Rahul Gandhi said. We will organise Savarkar Gaurav yatra throughout the state to inform about the sacrifice of Savarkar… Rahul Gandhi should go and stay at the Andamans jail for one day if he can,” Mr Shinde told reporters.
“Savarkar isn’t a God only of Maharashtra, but of the entire country,” the Chief Minister said. He also took a swipe at Mr Thackeray for diluting the Sena’s core principles by joining hands with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
“People who keep on speaking about Hindutva didn’t say anything on Rahul Gandhi during the Maharashtra assembly session. They wore black ribbons, stood with Congress leaders and opposed the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi. The entire state watched this,” Mr Shinde said.
“The leader who said they won’t tolerate insult of Savarkar didn’t say anything in the assembly. Their leaders were quiet. They are doing this just to stay in MVA? You all should ask him what will you do if you won’t tolerate the insults?” Mr Shinde said, referring to the Maha Vikas Aghadi.
Team Thackeray has said they will not attend a dinner organised by the Congress tonight to discuss issues linked to Mr Gandhi’s comment.
The Congress has said Mr Gandhi’s disqualification as MP was based on a frivolous defamation case. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said Mr Gandhi’s “Modi surname” comment was not aimed at OBC. “Is Nirav Modi an OBC?” Mr Tharoor said, referring to the fugitive businessman who alleged scammed Punjab National Bank and fled India.