Veer Savarkar, who inspired and guided the nation, now a victim of hate-politics

When the country is celebrating 137th birth anniversary of one of the greatest sons of India, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, popularly known as Veer Savarkar, a heated ideological debate also ensues over his contributions for the freedom struggle and social reforms!
The move of the Congress government in Rajasthan to remove Veer Savarkar from the textbooks has intensified the row over his legacy. Besides, the Congress youth icon, Rahul Gandhi had repeatedly mocked Savarkar during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by saying that the freedom fighter had apologised to the British to get out of jail. In one inference he even said in a rally, “The BJP asked me to apologise for telling the truth. I am not Rahul Savarkar. I am Rahul Gandhi. I will not apologise. Nor will anyone from the Congress.”
Such attacks more intensified when the Congress printed a booklet on Savarkar that claimed that the Hindu Mahasabha co-founder had a physical relationship with Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi. The booklet, named ‘How brave was Veer Savarkar’, was allegedly distributed in an All India Congress Seva Dal training camp run by the Congress in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh this month. It mentions and talks about several incidents, questions and controversies surrounding Savarkar.
When the Madhya Pradesh Congress was indulging in mud-slinging against the great freedom fighter, the Maharashtra unit of Congress also came forward to continue the tirade against Savarkar. In the February edition of the Congress’ Marathi newspaper, Shidori, the party had published two articles belittling freedom fighter Veer Savarkar. One-piece was titled “Swatantryaveer Navhe, Mafiveer” (Not a freedom fighter but an apologist), while the other was named “Andharatil Savarkar” (The unknown aspects of Savarkar). The first article relied upon another report published in the Marathi magazine, Samya Yoga Sadhana, which concluded that Veer Savarkar was not a freedom fighter but an apologiser. It was a dig at the mercy petition Veer Savarkar wrote to the British when he was lodged in cellular jail. The other article published in Congress magazine put out personal aspects of his life in the public domain that drew questions about the “character” of the freedom fighter.
However, when Rahul, his followers and his party attack Savarkar they forget that one of the most influential Congress leaders and former prime minister late Indira Gandhi once praised Savarkar. On the occasion of centenary birth anniversary of the great son of the country, Indiraji wrote, “Veer Savarkar’s daring defiance of the British Government has its own importance in the annals of our Freedom Movement. Not just this, Indira Gandhi had also condoled Savarkar’s death in 1966. She (Indira Gandhi) had released a statement praising Savarkar as a revolutionary who had inspired many in the country.
Savarkar became a revolutionary at a very young age with his elder brother Ganesh, who played an influential role in his teenage life. As a youngster, Savarkar organized a youth group and named it ‘Mitra Mela.’ He used the group to organize revolutionary activities as he was inspired by radical political leaders, like Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Bipin Chandra Pal, who were then popular as Lal, Bal, Pal.
Savarkar spent his childhood with his siblings, Ganesh, Mainabai, and Narayan. At the age of 12, Savarkar led a group of students to drive away a horde of Muslims, who had caused trouble in his town. He was subsequently praised for his bravery, which earned him the nickname ‘Veer.’ Dhanjay Keer in his biography of Savarkar narrated this incident.
He graduated from ‘Fergusson College’ in Pune and was then offered a scholarship to study law in England. After enrolling at a well-known law college, Savarkar took shelter at ‘India House,’ a student residence in North London. While in London Savarkar inspired his fellow Indian students and formed an organization called ‘Free India Society,’ which encouraged Indians to fight for complete freedom from the British.
However, the founding father of “Hindutva politics” was a marginal figure in mainstream politics for a long period. In fact, the process of legitimising his legacy gained momentum after the BJP became a force to reckon with in national politics. In 2003, the BJP-led NDA government installed a portrait of Savarkar in Parliament’s central hall, right opposite Mahatma Gandhi’s portrait. However, the then opposition, Congress boycotted the function. As the Union minister in 2004, one of the known critics of Savarkar, Mani Shankar Aiyar had even removed a plaque of Savarkar from the Cellular Jail in Andaman.
The hatred for Savarkar could be gauged from the fact that after his death in 1966, some of his supporters thought that it would be appropriate if his mortal remains were to be carried on a gun-carriage. A request to that effect was made to the then Defence Minister late YB Chavan. But Chavan, surprisingly, a fellow Maharashtrian turned down the proposal and not a single minister from the Maharashtra Cabinet showed up to the cremation ground to pay homage to Savarkar. In New Delhi, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha turned down a request that it pay homage to Savarkar. Again when Chavan went to the Andaman Islands as the union Home minister in 60’s, he was asked whether he would like to visit Savarkar’s jail but he was not interested. Also when Morarji Desai, an ex-Congressman, went as Prime Minister to the Andaman Islands, he too refused to visit Savarkar’s cell.
While doing all sorts of criticism and aversion against Savarkar, Congress cites his alleged “dubious” role during the freedom movement. It claimed that he was released from the Andaman jail after signing a statement endorsing his trial, verdict and British Law, and renouncing violence, a bargain for freedom. Another allegation is that he was the brain behind the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. Interestingly, in 1920, the Congress and its leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Vithalbhai Patel and Bal Gangadhar Tilak had demanded his unconditional release before the then British government.
Savarkar was involved in two cases by the then British Raj—murder and sedition—and was sentenced to two life terms of 25 years each and sent to infamous Cellular Jail in Andaman. He was not considered by the British government as a political prisoner. Well-known writer, YD Phadke wrote that Savarkar’s mercy petitions were a ruse. According to him, Savarkar was aware of the political developments in the mainland and wanted to be a part of it. “He was a master strategist,” said Ved Rahi, who directed a biopic of Savarkar in 2001. “He felt he was wasting the prime of his life in the jail…. He was entirely justified in writing those letters to get out of the wretched jail so that he could come back to active politics and freedom struggle.”
There is little doubt that demonising Savarkar is usual behaviour for his ideological opponents. But Savarkar, the formulator of the Hindutva, can’t be reduced to rhetorical politicking. His legacy needs to be seriously engaged with because he is one of the pivotal persons in the country’s history.
A freedom fighter, nationalist, thinker, author and poet, Savarkar is truly a source of inspiration for crores of Indians. As the nation remembers this great patriot on his death anniversary that falls this month, his ideals and thoughts still guide our nation towards the progress and prosperity once envisioned by him and likes of other great men. Savarkar occupies a unique spot in India’s long and illustrious history, where great ideas by great men have created waves which have a civilizational impact. A born leader, even as a kid he would gather a bunch of boys and be the leader of the Vanar Sena. Savarkar, who later on grew to be one of the greatest freedom fighters against the British imperialism, he had envisioned the idea of complete freedom and liberation from the chains of British slavery. Advocating the use of arms and force to achieve the mentioned cause like other great revolutionary leaders like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and others, he was thus known to differ with Gandhi on the policy of India’s struggle for freedom. A leading revolutionary himself, he was attracted and inspired by the burning zeal, the heroism, bravery, suffering and tragic fate of the leaders of 1857, and he decided to re-interpret the story and to relate it in full with the help of all the material available to him at the time. He spent days and months at the India Office Library studying the period.
A strictly non-vegetarian and a self-described atheist, Savarkar regards being Hindu as a cultural and political identity. He often stressed social and community unity between Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, to the exclusion of Muslims and Christians. He coined the word ‘Hindutva’, the concept that forms the ideological core of the BJP, which leads the coalition government at the Centre. A proponent of Hindutva, he also contributed greatly to bring in an ideological revolution within the Hindu society which had been pushed by British imperialists on the back burner. “No one should ever think that a certain Hindu caste is high or that another is low. The notion of high and low will be determined by overt merit of individuals,” he propagated while denouncing the prevailing caste system in the country.
The great freedom fighter understood that India can’t become a nation as long as it remains a feudal-agrarian society disintegrated into numerous castes and communities. Savarkar disagreed with the orthodox advocates of the caste system as a defence mechanism because what may be true for a bygone era was not true when faced with an opponent organised under a nation-state, bringing to bear its full might upon a divided people. He professed atheism and favoured modern science. He was an ardent critique of Hindu religious practices not endowed with reason and viewed them as a hindrance to the material progress of the Hindus. He believed that religion is an unimportant aspect of “Hindu identity”
Savarkar gave the first systematic Hindu political response to the repeated invasions and subjugation of India. His “Hindutva” is not Hinduism but a political response to political Islam and western imperialism. He understood that for India to survive in the modern world, it has to become a modern nation too. He also understood that unless India becomes an industrial power with the modern means of waging war, it simply can’t resist the imperialist powers. But he understood something more than several of his nationalist contemporaries failed to grasp. For India to be able to resist imperialism, a nation had to be born. For Savarkar, that nation was a Hindu Rashtra. Only a Hindu nation transcending caste, regional and linguistic barriers was capable of resisting imperialism. No longer would invading armies roam around the countryside; no longer would India be a playground for colonial powers; no longer would its people and cities be pulverised by warlords for they would have to face a powerful Indian state created on the foundation of a Hindu nation. And the foundation of this Hindu nation was Hindutva.
Savarkar was a radical and his Hindutva, too, was a radical break in Hindu thought: anti-caste, reformist, modernist and futuristic. It was a modern Hindu response to the modern world. In fact, even today, Hindutva is opposed by regressive sections of the Hindu society that cling on to the upper caste village orthodoxy and delusions of restoring the feudal-agrarian social order. Savarkar suffered terribly at the hands of the British for his revolutionary activities and was later boycotted by society for opposing untouchability, caste rules and advocating widow remarriage, and inter-caste dining.
Becoming a frequent and forceful orator, a visionary Hindutva leader, agitated for the use of Hindi as a common national language. He was also a strong supporter to establish of the Jewish state of Israel, which was not only in the spirit of his nationalism but also what Savarkar saw in the Jewish state as a barricade against the Muslim Arab world.
Being the leader of Hindu Mahasabha, he vehemently opposed the creation of Pakistan, and as expected opposed Gandhi’s continued Muslim appeasement stances. Nathuram Godse, a volunteer of the Hindu Mahasabha, assassinated Gandhi in 1948 and upheld his actions till his hanging. Savarkar was arrested and indicted by the government in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination case. But he was acquitted by the Supreme Court. He died on February 26, 1966, at the age of 83 after he renounced medicines, food and water which he termed as atmaarpan (fast until death). In an article he wrote before his death, he said his life’s mission was over and that it was better to end his life rather than wait for death.
It is a pity that he has been reduced to a hate figure. One should seriously engage with his views and legacy even if one disagrees with him. After all, after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Savarkar remains the most consequential Hindu. Where would the Hindu polity be today without them? Savarkar will always be remembered by this grateful nation as a patriot who led the country through troubled times, and as a champion of true democracy. He united the Hindus under one flag and gave them an ideology that should inspire and guide them for generations to come.