During one of the battle of Speeches in Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi had said ‘We have our Gandhiji, You have your Savarkar”. Amidst uproar, the heir presumptive to Gandhi family patrimony of India’s Prime Ministership said ‘Is Savarkar not yours? Have you dumped him? If so, you have done a good thing”. Although not many in the country take Rahul Gandhi’s speeches seriously, his bumbling vilifcation of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar angered many. In Savarkar’s home state of Maharashtra, where students still religiously learn his works by the rote, Savarkar is unambiguously considered as a selfless Freedom Fighter who shook the roots of British colonialism in the country. In fact, in 2003, Savarkar’s portrait was unveiled in the Central Hall of the Parliament, bang opposite Mahatma Gandhi’s. Larger in size, the portrait personified Savarkar, an antithesis of Gandhi and a giant among men. That portrait caused a storm in the teacup, with Sonia Gandhi boycotting the unveiling ceremony and appeals made to the then President APJ Abdul Kalam to skip the ceremony, but in the end, the portrait, much like Savarkar’s legacy, persists. Inspite of decades of calumniation and vituperation, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and his revolutionary ideals live on and continue to inspire his countrymen.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, born in an orthodox Chitpavan Brahmin family in Maharashtra, rejected the confines of Hindu orthodoxy. An atheist, he abhorred caste and censured untouchability. In fact, he deemed cow worship as superstitious. An apocryphal story goes that in 1906, a lawyer by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi dropped in on a law student by the name of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who was cooking prawns. Savarkar offered Gandhi some prawns, which Gandhi, a staunch vegetarian, refused. Savarkar is believed to have retorted, ‘Only a fool would attempt to resist the British without being fortified by animal protein’. In the years to come, Savarkar and Gandhi would seldom see eye to eye. Savarkar thought Gandhi was a ‘Sissy’, who was willing to collaborate with Britain. He found the Gandhian concept of ‘Ahimsa’ abhorrent, calling it ‘mealy mouthed’. Savarkar was talking of Gandhi, when he said that Gandhi was a ‘crazy lunatic” who “happens to babble…[about] compassion, forgiveness”, yet “notwithstanding his sublime and broad heart, the Mahatma has a very narrow and immature head’. In course of the independence struggle, Mahatma Gandhi became the unquestioned leader of the Congress, while Savarkar became associated with Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. During those turbulent decades preceding independence, the Congress edged out the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. When independence came, it was Gandhi loyalists and Congressmen who claimed power. The victors wrote a distorted piece of history that reduced Savarkar to a religious demagogue.
In 1909, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had said ‘ Hindus were the heart of Hindustan but just as the beauty of the rainbow is not impaired but enhanced by its varied hues, Hindus will look more beautiful across the sky by assimilating all the best from the Muslims, Jews and Parsi and other civilisations’.
By the 1920s, however, Savarkar had begun talking of Hindutva. Instead of looking at Hindutva as a militant Hindu imperialist policy, one should understand the context in which it surfaced. During Savarkar’s legendary incarceration in Kalapani, he saw first hand how some Muslim Jail staff were running their own conversion agenda with gullible Hindu prisoners. Added to this was his knowledge of the Goan Inquisition, when Portuguese colonialists had converted Hindus to Christianity through torture and of other historical events, when, in Savarkar’s vision, Hindus had been wronged. But what ticked Savarkar off was the Congress and Gandhi’s support for the Khilafat Movement. Savarkar could not comprehend why Gandhi was lending support for a pan-Islamist movement that aimed at reinstating a Caliph in distant Turkey. He could not fathom Congress’s pandering to religious appeasement. This had unfortunate fallouts, for instance the Moplah riots in Malabar, where thousands of Hindus were butchered and many more converted. Khilafat Movement was the last straw for Savarkar. Soon thereafter, he propounded the Hindutva theory.
Much criticism is heaped on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar for his political ideology of Hindutva. The underlying philosophy behind Hindutva is the firm belief that there is no difference between a Hindu identity and the Indian identity. Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra was an Akhand Bharat, stretching across the subcontinent and Hindus as being people who live as children of a common motherland, adoring a common holy land. Himself an atheist, Savarkar did not see ‘Hindu’ as a religious term, but as a Socio-Culture descriptor. Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra manifesto allowed full freedom to all religious minorities. In fact, it called for full force of state intervention in case that right was hindered in any way. He detested appeasment along religious lines. For his political ideology, Savarkar was derided as a Hindu version of Jinnah. On this, Savarkar set the record straight. He said, ‘Myself and Jinnah are not the birds of the same feather because I stand for equality and no concessions while Jinnah is for more and more concessions for Muslims and doesn’t stand for equality’. The last paragraph of Savarkar’s book Hindutva reads ‘When Hindus come to hold a position when they could dictate terms to the whole world, those terms cannot be different from which Gita dictates or the Buddha lays down. A Hindu is most intensely so when he ceases to be a Hindu’.
Unfortunately for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, most of his supporters tend to be apologists. Be it the BJP, or the Sangh outfits, Savarkar is extolled as a Hindu nationalist but pretty much nothing beyond that. His apologists usually start with how he was never convicted for Gandhi’s assassination. For starters, Savarkar was a stellar Indian Nationalist. He wanted a strong, united India capable of tackling nefarious designs of outsiders as well as insiders. His maxim on Pakistan, ‘Till a state based on a intolerant religious foundation was India’s neighbour she would never be able to live in peace’, has been proven time and again. He warned Nehru on his weak response on Chinese aggression in Tibet and was proven right when China invaded India in 1962. Savarkar detested religious appeasement and wanted minorities to get equal treatment. His call was ignored and India today is paying the price of decades of vote bank politics and minority appeasement. Instead of a strong, united Akhand Bharat, Indians today are debating the legality of Indian control over Kashmir and the illegal Indian occupation in North East (reference some JNU professors’ speeches). Modern India has done a great disservice to Savarkar’s glorious ideals.
Much like the French Marseillaise, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar ‘s Jayostute, continues to inspire a generation of Indians
जयोस्तु ते श्रीमहन्मंगले शिवास्पदे शुभदे
स्वतंत्रते भगवतिIत्वामहं यशोयुतां वंदे|
(Victory to you, O Auspicious One,
O Holy Abode, Eternal Delight!
O Goddess of Freedom, Victorious One, we salute you!)