PROF RAM PUNIYANI | Clarion India
THIS 28th May 2020, Savarkar was in the news yet again. While the Opposition parties in Karnataka opposed the naming of Yelahanka flyover after Savarkar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while paying tribute to the Hindutva icon, said that Savarkar inspired many to join freedom struggle.
Nearly a year ago, the Maharashtra BJP had in its manifesto a proposal to award Bharat Ratna to Savakar. Those opposing such moves see Savarakar as the communalist, who as an ideologue of Hindu nationalism had brought to fore the word ‘Hindutva’, defined Hindus and laid the theoretical formulation of two-nation theory, which gave the ideological justification to Muslim League for demanding separate Pakistan.
While Savarkar had a communal mindset, as exemplified by his attack on a mosque as a boy, he is praised for two things. One is his book on 1857 calling it first war of Independence. And second, his opposition to British rule in the pre-Andman days. During this time he even refused to take the Bar-At-Law degree, as it required one to take oath of loyalty to the British Empire.
Also he was part of anti British activities, as a part of which he was imprisoned for 50 years in Andman’s cellular jail, quite a hardship! Of course, he was not the lone prisoner there. Most of the prisoners there bore the cruel atrocities of the jail. It was Savarkar who chose to send mercy petitions to the British authorities. In these petitions he not only apologised his past actions but also promised to support the empire in whatever way British think it fit.
Savarkar’s followers justify this act of apologising by comparing it with the shrewdness of Shivaji. The fact is that after release from Andman jail, he remained totally loyal to British, getting a hefty pension of Rs 60 per month from them.
Savarkar had already sown the seeds of weakening the freedom struggle by putting forward his ideology of Hindu nationalism. As per him, India has two nations, a Hindu and a Muslim. He went on to define Hindu as one who regards this land as his fatherland and holy land. He brought to fore the word Hindutva. This word today is used as synonymous with Hinduism, the religion. According to Savarkar, Hindutva is whole Hinduness and the emphasis is on Aryan race and Brahmanical culture.
His followers forget that Savarkar never participated in the major anti British movements. Contrary to what Modi says that he inspired people to participate in freedom struggle, in 1942, he issued instructions to Hindu Mahsabha followers to stick to their jobs/work and not do anything which will put British into inconvenience. He was instrumental in getting lakhs of Hindus into British army, in helping British war efforts. The interesting contrast with Subhash Bose is so obvious here. While there are also claims that it was Savarkat who advised Bose to go and form army! The fact is that while Subhash Bose fought the British by forming INA (Azad Hindu Fauz), Savarkar got people recruited for British army.
The contrast with Bhagat Singh is another noticeable point. Savarkar in his mercy petition asks for pardon and offers to collaborate with British. Bhagat Singh writes to British that since he is opposed to British rule, a rebel, he should be killed by a firing squad, not hung!
Today, there are Hindu nationalists who blame Muslims and Gandhi for the partition of India. The fact is Hindu Mahasabha collaborated with Muslim League in forming ministries in Bengal, Sindh and NWFP, when Congress was leading Quit India movement.
Interestingly, when HMS was part of a coalition ministry with Muslim League in Sindh, they passed a resolution supporting the formation of Pakistan. British could not have better collaborators in dividing the country than Muslim League and Hindu Mahasaba.
Those eulogising Savarkar focus on the first part of his life, pre-Andman. Partly that is true, but he was communal even at that time as he saw the 1857 uprising as collaboration of Hindus and Muslims against Christians and not an anti-colonial revolt based on peasants. While RSS takes off its nationalism from Savarkar and regards him as the father of Hindu nationalism, there are some differences between Savarkar and the RSS. Savarkar was an atheist and rationalist, and was opposed to regarding cow as holy animal. However, he called it a useful animal. Also he was more focused on political instance.
While he upheld the Hindu scriptures based on caste and gender hierarchy, he was very critical of Buddhism and non-violence. As per him this creed of non-violence made India week. In his writing he gives a clear patriarchal view which is the foundation of communal politics. While discussing Shivaji returning of the daughter-in-law of the defeated Muslim governor of Kalyan, who was brought to him as a gift by his army, Savarkar is critical of Shivaji’s policy. As per him, the revenge of Hindu women being dishonoured by Muslims was needed.
His role in Gandhi’s murder has been studied from various angles. He was tried for this and was exonerated for lack of corroborative evidence. Sardar Patel was clear that the murder has been done by the radical wing of Hindu Mahasabha.
For the last couple of decades efforts are on to glorify Savarkar. His portrait adorns Parliament. Whether India needs such icons is the question. For Hindu nationalists, he is an icon. For Indian nationalists, his pre-Andman life was anti British, and he never identified with the Indian nationalism or the struggle for secular, democratic India.