Opposition leaders have reacted sharply to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s comments that Mahatma Gandhi had asked right-wing leader Veer Savarkar to file a mercy plea with the British, pointing out that Gandhiji was still in South Africa in 1911 when Savarkar wrote his first application seeking clemency.

Speaking at the launch of the book, Veer Savarkar: The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition, on Tuesday, Mr. Singh said, “Generally, a prisoner has the right to file a mercy petition. Mahatma Gandhi had asked that you file a mercy petition. It was on Gandhi’s suggestion that he filed a mercy petition..”

President of AIMIM, Asaduddin Owaisi, pointed out that Savarkar wrote his first petition begging for “leniency, mercy and

promising to be a faithful servant of the crown” in 1911 just six months after getting to prison. Gandhiji was then in South Africa. Savarkar wrote again in 1913 and 1914 while Gandhiji wrote to him in 1920 in reply to a letter by him.

He also questioned Mr. Singh’s claim that Savarkar defined Hindu as anyone for whom India was fatherland or motherland. Mr. Owaisi asked, “However, Savarkar, as a man of limited intellectual prowess, had actually defined Hindu as someone for whom India was the fatherland and holy land. In his view, India was not the holy land for Muslims and Christians and so they couldn’t be fully loyal to India. What is your view on this as Defence Minister? Do you subscribe to this theory?”

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