How history distorted Savarkar's ideology

The nationalist icon’s efforts to protect Hindu culture and religion from proselytisers has been given the colour of Hindu aggression - a travesty of truth.

 |  10-minute read |   26-05-2015
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History often becomes captive in the hands of ideological zealots and hero worshippers. The ideological campaigners distort history as much as those resorting to hero worship. Both of them don't want to tolerate an opposing view, howsoever, truthful it might be. In the process, the distortions that creep into history lead to tensions and imbalances, thus disturbing social harmony. In fact, that has been story of Indian history so far.

A classic case in modern times is that of the great revolutionary and Hindutva icon, Swatantra Veer Savarkar, who spent as many as 27 years in jail and under prison restrictions - from 1910 to 1937 - for his legendry revolutionary activities against the British rulers. In 1923, while undergoing his jail term in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, or Kalapani, he coined and defined the term "Hindutva". And after his release in 1937, he led an unsuccessful political movement to prevent the Partition of India as president of Hindu Mahasabha.

Savarkar baiters have often accused him of contributing to India’s Partition because of what they see as his "divisive ideology", which sought to create a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. In the process, they have gone to the extent of almost absolving the main architect of India's Partition along religious lines - Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Savarkar's legitimate grievances against a section of Muslims have been sought to be twisted to depict him as a non-practical, insensitive, anti-Muslim zealot.

However, facts, which in Savarkar's case are the biggest casualty, depict a different picture of him. In fact, there isn't a greater example of distortion of history by ideological zealots than in the case of this famous revolutionary. The manifesto of Savarkar's Hindu Rashtra as mentioned in the well-written work on him by biographer Dhananjay Keer puts the record straight. According to the book, Savarkar's Hindu Rashtra manifesto not only allowed full freedom to the religious minorities to practise their religion, but also called for the intervention of the state with all its force in case the right to practise religion of a religious minority was being hindered in any way. However, according to the manifesto, "Hindu Rashtra won’t allow creation of a nation within a nation in the name of religious minoritism". Seen in the backdrop of the political atmosphere of minority appeasement that is sapping the energy of our nation today, one can say that Savarkar had seen through this danger several decades in advance.

Keer’s book gives another example of Savarkar's balanced stance on the Muslim issue. In the early 1940s, a group of Lucknow-based Muslims were so impressed by the Congress' efforts to forge Hindu-Muslim unity in the national struggle that they passed a resolution declaring that any Muslim slaughtering a cow would be considered an enemy of Hindu-Muslim unity and socially boycotted. When Savarkar read about it in a Mumbai newspaper he immediately issued a statement appreciating the Muslim gesture. He said: "If such gestures keep on coming from Muslims then Hindu-Muslim unity is possible." In 1938, when press reporters started comparing him with Jinnah during his visit to Lahore, Savarkar himself set the record straight: "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." This statement of Savarkar's virtually demolishes the smear campaign against him.

While addressing a group of Indian students on Dusshehra day in London in 1909, 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." The great revolutionary Asaf Ali was present at this meet and so was Gandhiji. Significantly, Asaf Ali later said that it was one of the finest speeches he had ever come across.

But in 1923 Savarkar came out with his epic work "Hindutva" warning about the dangers to Hindus from members of proselytising religions. The book is today a Bible for Hindu nationalists. After giving a precise definition of Hindutva, it lays down a set of guidelines for protecting Hindus and the Hindu religion from aggressive designs of the campaigners of converting religions. But it doesn't advocate second grade status to religious minorities and, in fact, supports equal treatment for all religions unlike many Muslim countries where Hindus can’t build a temple or cremate their dead even today.

So the question is what forced Savarkar to come up with his Hindutva theory within just 14 years of his 1909 speech? The answer lies in his study of the behaviour of the members of other religions that he did during his incarceration at Kalapani. He found that some of the jail staff comprising Muslims, along with Muslim prisoners, were neck-deep in converting some of the gullible Hindu prisoners into Islam. In addition, he had gained deeper knowledge of history now. He had read how in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries the Portuguese rulers converted the Hindu population to Christianity through torture and death in Goa and Konkan, and how even a ruler like Mughal emperor Shahjahan, sold as a liberal by modern historians, had converted the entire family of the Bundela ruler of Orchha, Jhunjhar Singh, to Islam and forced his women relatives into his own harem as a mark of punishment for his rebellion. In fact there is unimpeachable evidence now to show how the builder of the Taj Mahal used to devise strategies to convert Hindus into Islam through inducements and other means.

Having read these portions of medieval history, what came as the last straw for Savarkar was the Congress' trade off with a section of pan-Islamic Muslims in 1920 on the issue of Khilafat. While seeking the support of Indian Muslims for the Independence struggle, the Congress entered into a trade off and announced support to the Indian Muslims' pan-Islamic movement seeking reinstatement of the Sultan of Turkey by the Britishers (who had unseated him) on the ground that "he was the Khalifa of the Islamic world". This move by Congress ignoring that it would sow the seeds of religious appeasement and strengthen pan-Islamism played a major role in pushing Savarkar towards the Hindutva theory. So what is seen as Savarkar's Hindu supremacist view is actually a Hindu protective view based on organic thinking by a man who had seen the danger to Hindus in the face of threats from proselytising religions but still advocated equal treatment for all religions in his "Hindu Rashtra".

In other words, Savarkar’s efforts to protect Hindu culture and religion from the designs of the proselytisers has been given the colour of Hindu aggression, which is a travesty of truth. The concluding paragraph of his book "Hindutva" nails the lies of his detractors: "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."

In many ways, time has vindicated Savarkar, whose crucial predictions on national security issues are coming true. About Pakistan, Savarkar had said, "Till a state based on a intolerant religious foundation was India's neighbour she would never be able to live in peace". The repeated aggressions of Pakistan on India from 1947-48 to Kargil, the latest being the 2008 Mumbai attack and the merciless beheading of Indian soldiers, has proved Savarkar’s prediction correct time and again. Savarkar was always for strong military response to any kind of foreign aggression. When Pandit Nehru gave a knee-jerk response to Chinese aggression in Tibet in 1950 and then came up with the Hindu-Chini Bhai-Bhai theory in the 1950s, Savarkar issued a stern warning in 1954 saying that such kowtowing to China after its aggression in Tibet would whet its appetite and he won’t be surprised if China felt encouraged to attack India and swallow its land in the time to come. He was proved correct eight years later when China attacked India in 1962 and swallowed a large chunk of its land.

There are other interesting facts about him, largely unknown. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev had met Savarkar in Ratnagiri in late 1920s and drew inspiration from him before embarking on their revolutionary activity. Even Subhas Chandra Bose’s decision to leave India and join Japan-Germany axis in World War II was based on Savarkar’s advice that in international politics, one's enemy’s enemy should be seen as a friend and befriended. The only leader who has lived up to an extent to Savarkar’s vision on foreign policy and national security so far is Indira Gandhi. And the only leader who can live up to it in future is, perhaps, Narendra Modi, based on his foreign vision so far.

About the religious minorities, Savarkar had said that they should get equal treatment, but they shouldn’t be appeased as that would encourage them to come up with more and more unjust demands in the name of selective justice and at the cost of majority rights. Time has vindicated Savarkar even on this. The demands of at least a section of Indian Muslim leadership, which wants to encroach upon the rights of the majority, thus causing social disharmony, are unending even after six decades of independence. The 2012 statement of Maulana Ahmed Bukhari of Delhi said it all. He said, "Only a weak government is in benefit of Muslims in India as a strong government invariably ignores Muslim’s demands and problems." The statement indicated the insatiable nature of demands of a section of Muslims in a country where the Haj pilgrimage is subsidised, but not so much the pilgrimage of members of other religions.

More, the Bukhari view is the very antithesis of a strong and united India as envisioned by all patriotic Indians, moderate Muslims included. On the flipside, let us let us examine in what shape India would be today had Savarkar's maxim of equal treatment for all - read Hindus, Muslims and Christians - been followed? Most would agree that India would have been largely free from the religious rancour that has hindered its progress in many ways.

Unfortunately, Savarkar's supporters, including top RSS leaders, have always taken a Hindu apologist view while defending him, praising him for his revolutionary activities, but remaining silent on his views on religious minorities as well as non-violence on which he held a completely different view from that of Gandhiji. While Gandhiji was for complete non-violence, Savarkar was for non-violence and not complete non-violence. Savarkar advocated that an aggressor should be paid back in the same coin. So, in a nutshell, Savarkar’s supporters take an utterly defensive stance while defending him against onslaughts from his ideological rivals, thus leaving him virtually defenceless on issues that concern the future of the nation and to which Savarkar’s thoughts provide a solution.

Significantly, while under prison restrictions in Ratnagiri town from 1924 to 1937. Savarkar led the most powerful movement against untouchability in Indian history apart from Gandhiji’s. But there are a few uncomfortable facts about Savarkar, which his diehard followers try to brush under the carpet. For example, when Sardar Patel was trying to merge the princely states into the Indian Union a virulently anti-Congress Savarkar - who had been wrongly implicated by the then Congress government in the murder of Gandhiji (before being acquitted) and as a result was in bad mental shape - supported the movement of Travancore, another princely state, against merging with India. This move went against his own advocacy of a strong and united India.

Clearly, the path to a bright future, whether in case of a nation or an individual, is embedded in drawing lessons from undistorted history. And that is the reason why removing distortions from history is the need of the hour.


Uday Mahurkar Uday Mahurkar @udaymahurkar

The writer is deputy editor, India Today.

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