Savarkar : Brave By Half
By Ram Puniyani
25 November, 2001
was written when Savarka's potrait was unveiled in the Parliament. The
article is republished in the context of the latest controversy involving
Manishankar Aiyar and the Sangh Parivar
film on Savarkar is due to be released shortly. The film even before
its release has created lot of ripples of excitement. It may be probably
the first major venture eulogizing the pioneer of Hindutva ideology.
One is aware that any objective discussion on Savarkar is filled with
lot of emotional outbursts as he has been iconized amongst sections
of population as the brave freedom fighter. He also gets the prefix
of 'Swatantra Veer' (Brave warrior for Freedom), which is only half
One needs to look
at the trajectory of his life to understand this transition from anti-British
revolutionary to the ideologue of Hindutva. Savarkar's life underwent
major transition during his confinement in Andamans. He was a changed
man after the period of his jail life. He was a committed anti-British
revolutionary prior to his deportment to Andamans but later he never
associated with any thing even remotely sounding as anti-British.
He had gone to study
law in London and for his anti-British stance he was denied the barrister-ship.
In England Savarkar formed 'Free Indian Society' committed to overthrowing
British rule in India. That time he rejected the British proposal to
give the undertaking not to participate in politics. His group had learnt
the art of bomb making from a Russian revolutionary in Paris. One member
of the group killed a top-ranking official in India office (London)
and was sentenced to death. For involvement in this and for another
charges on him in Indian courts, Savarkar was arrested, sentenced and
was to undergo life imprisonment. He was deported from England. The
ship carrying him stopped at Marseilles, where he jumped into the sea
and swam to the shore to claim asylum on French soil. He was captured
back and was transported to Andamans for life imprisonment.
The conditions in
Andman jail were very painful and he was tortured severely. It seems
that conditions of jail life broke his spirits. Incidentally from 1920
Indian National Congress was asking for his unconditional release, but
due to reasons best known to him Savarkar preferred to give a written
undertaking to get released from the jail - "I hereby acknowledge
that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods
of violence resorted to in days gone by and I feel myself duty bound
to uphold law and constitution (British, added) to the best of my powers
and am willing to make the 'reform' a success in so far as I may be
allowed to do so in future" (from facsimile of Savarkar's letter
to British authorities, Frontline, April 7, 1995. Pg. 94). The reforms
he is referring to here are the Montague Chelmsford proposals of 1919,
which did not satisfy the nationalist movement's demands.
In response to this,
as a trade off, the British Government released him under the condition
that he will stay in Ratnagiri district in Bombay province and will
seek permission of the government to leave the district. Also that he
will not engage in any public or private political activities without
the consent of the government. The period of conditions lasted till
1937, when the Congress ministry was sworn in. Subsequent to this he
assumed the office of the President of Hindu Mahasabha. This aspect
of his total surrender is totally hidden by the Hindutva forces, they
confer on him the epithet of 'Veer (brave) Savarkar'.
Why did British
government release him? How is it that after his release the track of
his politics totally changed and he came to adorn the mantle of ideologue
Hindu Rashtra? How is it that later he never undertook any anti British
agitation? How is it that he never joined and supported the major movements
of those times like Quit India movement? How is it that instead of being
the part of freedom struggle, he chose to help the British in recruiting
Indians for their army? One can have ones' own inferences but his compromise
with British hides lot of messages about the nature of his politics
from then on.
He did emerge as
the undisputed leader of Hindu Mahasabha. In most of the times, post-1937,
his politics was the polar opposite of National movement led by Gandhi
and 'no support to Congress move' was his basic dictum. This can be
best exemplified in the 1942 Quit India movement, when Gandhi gave the
call for the people to leave the government jobs. Instead Savarkar issued
the edict - "I issue this definite instruction to all Hindu Sanghathanists
in general holding any post or position of vantage in the government
services, should stick to them and continue to perform their regular
duties". (Quoted in A G Noorani Frontline, Dec. 1, 1995). Also
working committee had passed a resolution on August 31, 1942 asking
all Mahasabhaites to remain at their jobs.
Savarkar does have
the 'honor' of brewing Brahminical Hinduism with nationalism, and he
was the first exponent of the doctrine of Hindutva. Savarkar's initial
anti-British struggles were very impressive but after assuming the role
of the proponent of Hindutva his major energies were channelised in
strengthening the politics of hate, formation of communal Hindu Mahasabha
and helping RSS from distance. Savarkar's work `Hindutva: Who is Hindu'
(1923) became and remains the basic text defining this political concept.
With the simultaneous rise of Muslim communalism, in due course most
of the Hindu consolidations took place by showing the fear of Muslims.
This nationalism consolidated itself on the ground of the 'threatening
other', but this threatening other was not the British imperialist colonizers
whose rule the country was suffering but was the `Muslim'.
As an aside we should
note here that Savarkar's anti-British struggles and anti-British activities
totally ceased after his release by the British, and from then on all
his guns were to be targeted against the Muslims. Savarkar argued (later
on this became the ideological base of most of the Hindutva organizations)
- "the Aryans who settled in India at the dawn of history already
formed a nation, now embodied in the Hindus.... Hindus are bound together
not only by the tie of the love they bear to a common fatherland and
by the common blood that courses through their veins and keeps our
hearts throbbing and our affection warm but also by the tie of the common
homage we pay to our great civilization, our Hindu culture." (Hindutva,
Page108) Thus Hindutva according to him rests on three pillars: geographical
unity, racial features and common culture. He further went on to elaborate
the criterion for who is Hindu?
According to him
all those who regard this land as their fatherland and holy-land are
the only ones who are Hindu and thereby the people to whom this land
belongs. This led to the automatic interpretation that the Christians
and the Muslims, whose holy places are in Jerusalem and Mecca are not
on par with the `Hindus' who 'own' this country. Initiating the theorizing
of the `doubting of patriotism of Muslim's', Savarkar states - "but
besides culture the tie of common holy-land has at times proved stronger
than the claims of a motherland. Look at Mohammedans: Mecca to them
is a sterner reality than Delhi or Agra."
was rival to Gandhian politics. Gandhi - the representative of Indian
Nationalism was branded by Savarkar as conciliator and appeaser of Muslims.
Savarkar propounded that struggle for supremacy would begin after British
left and that the Christians and Muslims were the real enemies who could
be defeated only by "Hindutva". He maintained that this land
belonged to Hindus and so by implication Muslims with Hold Land in Mecca
and Christians with Holy land in Jerusalem cannot have equal status
It is also worth
remembering, that murderer of Gandhi, Godse was his ardent follower.
Savarkar himself was the co-accused in Gandhi murder, but was let off
as Godse took the whole responsibility of this murder totally on his
own self. While the film and the present projection of Savarkar is going
on, one has also to assess his role in second half of his life. An honest
assessment of our past will show us the different versions of Nationalism
and their political stance. The present hysteria of paying blind obeisance
to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar should not come in the way of objectively
assessing his changed role in later part of his life.