Swatantryaveer Savarkar : The misrepresented Hindutva ideologue

Brigadier Hemant Mahajan

Veer Savarkar’s Rememberance Day : Phalgun Shukla Paksha 6 (1st March)

A misrepresented Hindutva ideologue’s history often becomes captive in the hands of ideological zealots and hero worshippers.

The ideological campaigners distort history as much as the hero worshippers. Both do not 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.

A classic case in modern times is that of the great revolutionary and Hindutva icon, Swatantraveer Savarkar, who spent as many as 27 years in jail and under prison restrictions from 1910 to 1937 for his legendary revolutionary activities against the British rulers.

Criticism of Savarkar is misplaced

In 1923, while undergoing his jail term in Andaman Nicobar or Kalapani, he coined and defined the term ‘Hindutva’. Savarkar baiters have often accused him of contributing to India’s partition by what they see as his ‘divisive ideology’ that 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 the religious lines – Pakistan founder Mohammed 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. Facts, which in Savarkar’s case are the biggest casualty, depict a different picture of him. In fact, there is not a greater example of the distortion of history by ideological zealots than in the case of this famous revolutionary.

Seer of dangers ahead

The manifesto of Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra as mentioned in the well-written work on Savarkar 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 practice their religion but called for the intervention of the State with all its force in case the right to practice the religion of a religious minority was being hindered in any way.

However, according to the manifesto, ‘Hindu Rashtra will not allow the creation of a Nation within a Nation in the name of religious minoritism’. Seen in the backdrop of the political atmosphere of minority app-easement sapping the energy of our Nation today, one can say that Savarkar had seen through this danger 9 decades in advance.

Savarkar on Hindu-Muslim unity

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 Bombay newspaper, he immediately issued a statement appreciating the Muslim gesture. He said, “If such gestures keep 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 put 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”.

Hindus are the heart of Hindusthan

While addressing a group of Indian students on the Dushehra 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”.

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 of Hindu nationalists.

The true face of religious fanaticism

After giving a precise definition of Hindutva, it lays down a set of guidelines for protecting Hindus and Hindu religion from the aggressive designs on the part 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 in Cellular Jail in Andaman and Nicobar. He found that some of the Jail staff comprising Muslims along with Muslim prisoners were neck-deep into converting some of the gullible Hindu prisoners to Islam.

Plus he had gained a deeper knowledge of history now. He had read how in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, the Portuguese rulers converted Hindu population to Christianity on the pain of 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.

Khilafat movement – a turning point

After having read this 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 made 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. In other words, Savarkar’s efforts to protect Hindu culture and religion from the designs of the proselytisers have been given the colour of Hindu aggression which is a travesty of truth.

Intolerant neighbour – the true danger

The concluding paragraph of his book ‘Hindutva‘ nails the lies of his detractors – “When Hindus come to hold a position where they could dictate terms to the whole world, those terms cannot be different from which Gita dictates”.

About Pakistan, Savarkar had said, “Till a State, based on an 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 repeatedly.

China War

Savarkar was always for a 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.

Netaji Bose and other revolutionaries took inspiration from him

There are other interesting facts about him, largely unknown. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev had met Savarkar in Ratnagiri in the late 1920s and drew inspiration from him before embarking on their revolutionary activity.

Even Subhaschandra 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, the enemy’s enemy should be seen as a friend and befriended.

Savarkar’s views on religious minorities

About the religious minorities, Veer Savarkar had said that they should get equal treatment but they shouldn’t be appeased, as their appeasement 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.

Savarkar’s non-violence

While Gandhiji was for complete non-violence, Savarkar was for non-violence and not complete-nonviolence. Savarkar advocated that an aggressor should be paid back in the same coin.

So, in 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.

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 this is the reason why removing distortions from history is the need of the hour.

Savarkar’s manifesto called for the intervention of the State if the right to practice religion of a religious minority was being hindered !