Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday continued to target late Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar, saying that he helped the British rulers and wrote a mercy petition to them out of fear.
Gandhi also dared the Maharashtra government to stop the Congress's Bharat Jodo Yatra, which is currently passing through the state.
Addressing a press conference at Wadegaon in Akola district, Gandhi showed documents dating back to 1920 from the government records to media persons, claiming that they contained a letter written by Savarkar to the British.
"I will read the last line, which says 'I beg to remain your most obedient servant' and is signed V D Savarkar, which shows he helped the British," Gandhi said at the media interaction during his Bharat Jodo Yatra foot march which is in the last leg in Maharashtra.
He said he was of the view that Savarkar signed the letter out of fear and in doing so, he betrayed Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of the freedom struggle.
"If the government wants to stop the yatra, try and stop," he dared.
His comments came after Shiv Sena leader and former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said he does not agree with Gandhi's views on Savarkar.
Maharashtra Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis has also claimed that Gandhi has been 'shamelessly lying' about Savarkar.
Addressing a rally in Washim district on Tuesday organised as part of his yatra, Gandhi called Savarkar a symbol of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
"He was jailed in Andaman for two-three years. He started writing mercy petitions," the Congress MP had said.
Lok Sabha member Rahul Shewale, who belongs to the Shiv Sena faction led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, had slammed Gandhi for his remarks and demanded that the Bharat Jodo Yatra be stopped in the state.
During the media interaction on Thursday, Gandhi also accused the BJP of spreading hatred, fear and violence.
"BJP doesn't speak to farmers and youth...If people thought this yatra was not needed, lakhs of people would not have come out on the streets in support," he said.
"The yatra has been a learning experience for me and helping me understand people," he added.
On the perception that the opposition has been unable to take on the BJP, Gandhi said the perception is superficial because the opposition does not control institutions, media and judiciary.
"This is not a battle between two political parties. Institutions in the country create fairness on the battleground. If you go on the ground, you will understand what the people say." he said.
"Showing compassion and affection even to your opponents are Indian values. The yatra is doing the same," he said.
You can disagree with the views of your opponent by showing affection and love, he added.
To a question on the Congress and opposition leaders 'betraying the ideology' to join the BJP before elections, Gandhi said this will cleanse the opposition.
Those who can sell themselves for money are joining BJP. There are clean people around and they will come to Congress, he said.
"I met a Shiv Sena MLA, who said he was offered Rs 50 crore to defect, but he didn't do so. In a way, the opposition is being cleaned up...All corrupt people who can sell themselves for money are going to the BJP. There is no dearth of clean people who will come to the Congress," he said.
Asked if he is the Congress' prime ministerial candidate for 2024 elections, Gandhi said such questions are meant to deflect attention from the yatra.
"I am not even thinking of this," he said.
The yatra was conceptualised because India was internally fractured and in pain, the Congress leader added.
"The party is not weak in Maharashtra. There is a natural Congress in Maharashtra. The state is in the party's DNA. There will be a positive impact of the yatra in Congress. I am not a soothsayer. I cannot predict the future," he said.
"There is a way where you can be affectionate and loving to the people. You can disagree with them and tell them I don't like your views, but I am not going to beat you up because I am more powerful," he said, adding that this was the idea of the yatra.
Little bit of love, respect and affection will strengthen India, he said.
"I don't understand why people think hatred, being abusive, nasty and cruel will make the country strong. I think it is cowardice," he said.
Gandhi recalled that when he asked Nelson Mandela (late president of South Africa) what gave him hope after coming out of prison after 26 years, he said India's freedom struggle gave him hope.
"Being compassionate and respectful to your opponent is what Mahatma Gandhi taught and these are Indian values which are powerful," he said.
To a query on Mahatma Gandhi's presence in Akola on the same day in 1933, the Congress MP said comparing the yatra to Mahatma Gandhi's marches was wrong.
"There can't be any comparison between me and Mahatma Gandhi," he said.
He said the yatra was an idea, imagination against the BJP's approach, which is full of hatred and spreading fear.
"The yatra's attempt is to tell people this is not the approach. Some BJP leader said the yatra should be stopped. I didn't say how dare he or he should be crushed and beaten. I said this is his view. Let him keep his view. If the government thinks the yatra is causing bad impact on the country, it can do so," he said.
Speaking about his experience in Maharashtra during the yatra, he said he met lakhs of people where youths shared their aspirations and farmers shared their pain.
"I was taught about Shivaji Maharaj, Mahatma Phule, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. My political understanding of the state has changed. I will never forget this," he said.