Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar filed mercy petitions before the British but after Mahatma Gandhi suggested it, claimed Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday.

“The truth is he did not file these petitions for his release,” Rajnath claimed at the launch of a book titled Veer Savarkar: The Man Who Could Have Prevented Partition. “Generally a prisoner has [the] right to file a mercy petition. Mahatma Gandhi had asked that he [Savarkar] file a mercy petition.”

Singh added: “And Mahatma Gandhi had appealed that Savarkar should be released. He had said that the way we [Indian freedom fighters] are running a movement for freedom peacefully, so would Savarkar.”

The Hindutva ideologue was imprisoned for two terms of 50 years each for waging a war against the British King and the assassination of a government official. Savarkar was sent to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans in 1911.

Several users on social media pointed out that Singh’s statement lacked evidence and was incorrect.

Historian Irfan Habib said in a tweet: “Yes, monochromatic history writing is really changing, led by the minister who claims Gandhi asked Savarkar to write mercy petitions. At least it is accepted now that he did write. No documentary evidence needed when minister makes a claim. New history for New India.”

Congress leader Gaurav Pandhi pointed out that contacting outsiders was not allowed in the Cellular Jail, where Savarkar was lodged.

“So, your claim Rajnath Singh that Mahatma Gandhi asked Savarkar to file a mercy petitions is an absolute lie,” he said. “Throughout its operations, 80,000 prisoners were lodged in Kala Pani, but 79,999 never filed for mercy.”

Filmmaker Rakesh Sharma said that Savarkar’s 1913 mercy petition had referred to his first one that he filed in 1911. But Mahatma Gandhi had returned to India in 1915.

“Minister-ji peddling WhatsApp propaganda?!” he said in a tweet.

At the event, Singh defended Savarkar further, saying that he spoke about all the political ideologies prevalent during his time, including the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, as well as a “healthy democracy”.

“For him, an ideal state was a place where there was no discrimination between citizens on the basis of religion or culture,” he claimed.

Savarkar had inspired people to break the shackles of slavery, Singh said. “His views and work on the practice of untouchability had inspired BR Ambedkar,” he claimed.

However, Singh said that Savarkar’s contribution in cultural unity of the country had been ignored. The defence minister recounted that in 2003, political parties had boycotted an event held to install a picture of Savarkar in Parliament.

“Similarly, a plaque was installed in his name in Andaman and Nicobar jail but when the next government came to power, it was removed,” Singh said.

The Union minister claimed that Savarkar was a true freedom fighter and his contribution to the Independence struggle could not be ignored.

“You only think how strong was his resolve to free the country that the British awarded him life sentence twice,” he claimed.

The defence minister also claimed that Savarkar was India’s first military strategic affairs expert in the 20th century and had given a robust defence and diplomatic doctrine to the country.