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Addressing an event after launching a book on Hindu extremist and VHP leader, late Ashok Singhal, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu rakes up Vande Mataram row again

Vice President Venkaiah Naidu believes that the late Ashok Singhal, former working president of RSS-affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and a rabid Muslim-baiter, was one of the “finest proponents of Hinduism” but wonders whether those who object to chanting Vande Mataram would rather salute Afzal Guru, the suspected terrorist who was hanged in February 2013 for allegedly plotting the Parliament attack in December 2001.

Addressing an event in New Delhi on Thursday evening after he released a book on the late Ashok Singhal, Naidu responded to questions on the continued opposition that chanting of Vande Mataram – a song dedicated to the motherland, literally meaning salute to the mother – faces from sections within the Muslim community.

The Muslim voices who oppose the singing of Vande Mataram claim that as per the Quran, the community can only salute Allah and no one else.

However, Naidu seemed to take an extreme view on the subject, one that seemed closer to the arguments propagated by the BJP – the political outfit that Naidu was affiliated with before assuming the office of Vice President of India – and its parent organisation, the RSS.

Vande Mataram ke baare mein vivaad hota hai, ‘Maa tujhe salaam’. Maa ko salaam nahi karenge toh kisko karenge? Afzal Guru ko karenge kya? (Vande Mataram is an ode to the motherland, what is the problem with it? if you don’t salute your mother, who would you salute, Afzal Guru),” Naidu asked.

A former fruit merchant from Sopore, north Kashmir, Afzal Guru was convicted for conspiring with and sheltering the terrorists who attacked the Parliament on December 13, 2001. Five terrorists had driven through a gate of Parliament House and opened fire, killing nine people on that fateful day. While all five terrorists were gunned down during the attack, Afzal Guru was arrested two days laterby the Delhi Police’s special cell.

Guru was sentenced to death by a trial court on December 18, 2002 along with Delhi University professor SAR Gilani and Shaukat Hussain. Gilani was, however, let off by the Delhi High Court in October 2003 while the sentence of Guru and Hussain was upheld. Later, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty of Guru in August 2005 but commuted Hussain’s sentence to 10 years imprisonment. Hussain was released from Tihar in December 2010.

While Guru was scheduled to be hanged in October 2006, his wife Tabassum filed a mercy petition with the then President APJ Abdul Kalam. The BJP had stridently accused the Congress-led UPA government of deliberately delaying a decision on Guru’s mercy petition and accused the Congress party of “appeasing its minority vote-back”. Guru’s plea for clemency had finally been rejected by then President Pranab Mukherjee on February 3. 2013. On February 9, early in the morning, Guru was hanged within the premises of the Tihar Jail, where he had been lodged since his conviction. There had been no prior information from Tihar authorities or the government about carrying out Guru’s death penalty on that day and the hanging had evoked sharp criticism from social and human rights activists and people in Jammu & Kashmir over the secrecy that was maintained in hanging Guru and then burying him within the Tihar Jail premises near Jail Number 3.

The Vice President spoke at length about Hinduism, Hindutva and, in comments that once again were reminiscent of his days as a BJP leader, the chanting of Bharat Mata ki Jai – another issue that some Muslims have reservations over.

Bharat Mata ki jai, is not about some goddess in a photo. It is about all 125 crore people living in this country irrespective of their caste, colour, creed and religion. They all are Indians,” Naidu said.

Referring to Hinduism, Naidu cited the Supreme Court’s 1995 verdict, which said Hinduism is not a narrow concept but a broader cultural connotation of India. “Hinduism is our culture our tradition which has been passed on from various generations. There could be different ways of worship, but there is only one way of life that in Hinduism,” the Vice President said.

Perhaps because he was at the event to unveil a book on Ashok Singhal or because of his association with the late VHP chief during his stint in the BJP, Naidu heaped high praise on the Hindutva leader.

While Singhal was known for his extremist right-wing Hindutva views – the high point of his public life was the riotous mobs he led in his quest for demolishing the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and getting a Ram Mandir built at the spot – these aspects of his life predictably found no mention in Naidu’s address.

Instead, the Vice President termed Singhal as one of the “finest proponents of Hinduism” who “sacrificed” 75 years of his life for the benefit of future generations. Naidu added that Singhal was “an exemplary individual who selflessly dedicated himself as a (RSS) pracharak and served the society”.

Speaking at the same event, RSS general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi said Singhal worked hard to realise the dream of building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. “Now he might have gone but we should not forget his goal,” Joshi added.

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