An examination of claims made as part of the Hindutva leader’s image makeover.
An aggressive campaign is under way to rehabilitate VD Savarkar (1883-1966) as great Indian freedom fighter. He is being touted as a legendary Indian nationalist, freedom fighter who spent 50 years in the Cellular Jail [CJ]. Multiple mercy petitions of his are hailed as a ruse to secure freedom in order to work for uprooting the British rule, last but not the least, he is glorified as a rationalist who fought against the Untouchability.
Let us compare these claims with the writings of Savarkar and records of his activities available in the archives of the Hindu Mahasabha in order to know the truth.
Savarkar’s journey from Indian nationalist to Hindu nationalist
It is true that Savarkar penned The Indian War of Independence 1857 in 1907 in which he glorified the joint struggle of Hindus and Muslims in the 1857 rebellion. In this tome, proscribed by the British rulers, he underscored the fact that Hindus and Muslims “were both children of the soil of Hindusthan. Their names were different, but they were all children of the same Mother; India therefore being the common mother of these two, they were brothers by blood”. He went to the extent of praising the Jehadi spirit Moulvi Ahmed Shah in the liberation war of 1857. “The great and saintly Ahmed Shah had woven fine and cleverly the webs of the Jehad—the War of Independence—through every corner of Lucknow and Agra,” he wrote.
However, Savarkar’s incarceration at the CJ brought fundamental change in his idea of India. His first official biographer, Dhananjay Keer corroborated the fact that while leaving the Cellular, he gave this mantra: “One God, one country, one goal, one race, one life, one language” which was later concretised as Hindutva. The reason for discarding commitment to an all-inclusive India and turning Islamophobic was provided by Savarkar himself as, “A large number of the wicked warders consisted of Mussalmans…And the prisoners under them were mostly Hindus. The Hindu prisoners were persecuted…”
It will be interesting to know that Savarkar was the only one at Cellular Jail who presented the persecution at the hands of the warders as a Hindu-Muslim issue. Barindra Kumar Ghosh (known as Barin, younger brother of Aurobindo Ghosh) in his memoirs, The Tale of My Exile made it clear that Muslim prisoners too suffered at the hands of these Cellular Jail officials. “In the Andamans it is they [warder, petty officer, jamadar etc.] who are in-charge of everything and have the authority…Ramlal sits a little cross-wise in the file, give him two blows on the neck. Mustafa did not get up immediately he was told to, so, pull off his mustache. Baqaullah is late in coming from the latrine, apply the baton and unloose the skin of his posterior—such were the beautiful proceedings by which they maintained discipline in the prison.”
Barin was also witness to the fact that there were kind hearted Pathan warders who on many occasions “secretly brought out a dish of meat…I do not know whether any food prepared by the famous Draupadi herself could have been as savoury as that dish with suh a gusto did I devour it”.
The truth is that Savarkar used the persecution by the Muslim jail officials as an alibi to legitimise his abandonment of commitment to Indian nationalism. The renowned historian R. C. Majumdar who is regarded as a true ‘Bhartiya’ by the Hindutva brigade while sifting heaps of official papers relating to the Cellular Jail in the course of writing of his landmark book on the CJ, Penal Settlement in Andamans could not avoid commenting, “that the incarceration in the Andamans had produced a great change on the great revolutionary leaders [Savarkar, his brother and Barin] and their attitude towards the British Government and their view of destroying it by revolution or secret conspiracies had suffered a radical change”.
Savarkar preceded Jinnah in propounding two-nation theory
Muslim league under MA Jinnah demanded Pakistan in March 1940. Long before it Savarkar had laid down his two-nation theory. In his book Hindutva (1923) he declared India to be the homeland of Hindus only and Muslims could not be part of Indian nationhood. He declared, “The root meaning of the word Hindu, like the sister epithet in Hindi, may mean only an Indian, yet as it is we would be straining the usage of words too much-we fear, to the point of breaking-if we call a Mohomedan [sic] a Hindu because of his being a resident of India.”
Savarkar took over the leadership of Hindu Mahasabha [HM] in 1937. While addressing the 19th Session of Hindu Mahasabha at Ahmedabad in the same year stated, “As it is, there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India…India cannot be assumed today to be a Unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary, there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.”
Hindu Mahasabha led by Savarkar declared unconditional support to the British government during Quit India Movement
The Quit India Movement began on August 9, 1942 as per Gandhi’s call to ‘Do or Die’ in order to expel the British from India. The British rulers swiftly responded with mass detentions on August 8 itself. Over 100,000 arrests were made which included the total top leadership of Congress including Gandhi. Mass fines were levied and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging. Hundreds of civilians were killed in violence, many shot by the police and army. Congress was banned. It is not generally known that during these times of repression Savarkar announced full support to the British rulers. Addressing the 24th session of the HM at Kanpur in 1942, Savarkar outlined the strategy of the Hindu Mahasabha of co-operating with the rulers in the following words, “The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle of all practical politics is the policy of Responsive Co-operation [with the British].” He called upon HM councillors, ministers, legislators and conducting any municipal or any public bodies to offer “Responsive Co-operation which covers the whole gamut of patriotic activities from unconditional co-operation right up to active and even armed resistance…”
What it meant at the political front was unambiguous. HM and ML joined hands in running coalition governments in Bengal and Sind (and later NWFP). Defending this collusion between HM and ML against Congress Savarkar stated, “In practical politics also the Mahasabha knows that we must advance through reasonable compromises. Witness the fact that only recently in Sind, the Sind-Hindu-Sabha on invitation had taken the responsibility of joining hands with the League itself in running coalition Government. The case of Bengal is well known. Wild Leaguers whom even the Congress with all its submissiveness could not placate grew quite reasonably compromising and socialable [sic] as soon as they came in contact with the HM and the Coalition Government, under the premiership of Mr. Fazlul Huq and the able lead of our esteemed Mahasabha leader Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji, functioned successfully for a year or so to the benefit of both the communities.”
It is to be noted that Mookerji was deputy premier and held the portfolio of suppressing QIM in Bengal.
Backstabbing Netaji Subhash Chander Bose
The Savarkar rehabilitation squad wants us to forget about the terrible betrayal of Netaji by Savarkar. When Netaji was planning to liberate India militarily, Savarkar offered full military co-operation to the British masters. Addressing 23rd session of Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur in 1941, he declared, “Our best national interests demands that so far as India’s defence is concerned, Hindudom must ally unhesitatingly, in a spirit of responsive co-operation with the war effort of the Indian government in so far as it is consistent with the Hindu interests, by joining the Army, Navy and the Aerial forces in as large a number as possible and by securing an entry into all ordnance, ammunition and war craft factories…Again it must be noted that Japan’s entry into the war has exposed us directly and immediately to the attack by Britain’s enemies…Hindu Mahasabhaits must, therefore, rouse Hindus especially in the provinces of Bengal and Assam as effectively as possible to enter the military forces of all arms without losing a single minute.”
According to HM documents, Savarkar was able to inspire one lakh Hindus to join the ranks of the British armed forces.
Savarkar’s mercy petitions were no ruse but instruments of abject surrender
Veer Savarkar submitted minimum 5 mercy petitions [MP] in 1911, 1913, 1914, 1918 and 1920. Savarkarites claim that these were submitted not as an act of cowardice, but “as an ardent follower of Shivaji, Savarkar wanted to die in action. Finding this the only way, he wrote six letters to the British pleading for his release”. A perusal of the two available mercy petitions will prove that there cannot be a lie worse than the claim that Savarkar’s MP petitions were in league with the tricks which Shivaji used to hoodwink the Mughal rulers successfully. The mercy petition dated 14th November, 1913 ended with the following words:
“[Therefore] if the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress. …Moreover my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?”
The petition dated March 30, 1920, from this prodigal son of the British masters ended with the following words:
“The brilliant prospects of my early life all but too soon blighted, have constituted so painful a source of regret to me that a release would be a new birth and would touch my heart, sensitive and submissive, to kindness so deeply as to render me personally attached and politically useful in future. For often magnanimity wins even where might fails.”
There was nothing wrong on the part of the CJ detainees in writing mercy petitions to the British. It was an important legal right available to the prisoners. Apart from Savarkar, Barin, HK Kanjilal, and Nand Gopal too submitted petitions. However, these were only Savarkar and Barin who sought forgiveness for their revolutionary past. Kanjilal and Nand Gopal did not demand any personal favour but status of political prisoners.
Savarkar secured remission of 37.5 years in his sentence of 50 years
Savarkar was incarcerated at Andamans on July 4, 1911 for two life terms [50 years]. On May 2, 1921 [after nine years andten months] he was transferred along with his elder brother, Babarao, to the mainland. He was finally released conditionally on January 6, 1924 [total imprisonment 12 years and six months] from Yeravda Jail.
Was Savarkar a rationalist who stood for scientific temper and fought against Untouchability?
Savarkar is glorified as a rationalist and crusader against Untouchability. Let us compare these claims with Savarkar’s beliefs and acts as recorded in the HM archives. He declared Manu to be the lawgiver for Hindus and emphasised that once we “re-learn the manly lessons” he taught with others. According to him “our Hindu nation shall prove again as unconquerable and conquering a race as we proved once” when lawgivers like Manu ruled. He declared Manusmriti to be “most worship-able after Vedas…Today Manusmriti is Hindu law”.
He gave personal guarantee that “the Hindu Maha Sabha shall never force any legislations regarding the entry of untouchables in the ancient temples or compel by law any sacred ancient and moral usage or custom prevailing in those temples. In general, the Mahasabha will not back up any Legislation to thrust the reforming views on our Sanatani brothers so far as personal law is concerned”.
Savarkar defended Hindu Princes who were British stooges
Savarkar was a great defender of the Hindu princes ruling native India. According to Savarkar, the Hindu princes were not only co-religionists but also descendants of the brave Hindu kings in the past and thus their ‘power in emergency’. In fact, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS both proudly described the Hindu princes ruling native India in league with the British rulers as ‘Shakti-sthan’ (centres of power) of Hinduism. It surely meant that Hindu sectarian leadership had neither any idea about the aspirations of toiling Hindu masses nor believed that Hindu princes were nothing but fifth column of Britain in India. The crucial fact should not be missed here that only those princes (both Hindu and Muslim) who remained absolutely loyal to foreign rulers by contributing men and material in suppressing the ‘Mutiny’ were retained as native rulers by the colonial masters in the post 1857 period.
These Hindu rulers as true and committed henchmen of the White masters never allowed any democratic activity in their kingdoms. There were endless instances of rape, killing, maiming and terrible persecution of political activists demanding basic human rights in these native states. Indian freedom struggle is witness to innumerable cases when subjects in these states were not allowed even to unfurl Tricolour.
Mysore was a Hindu princely state where 26 patriotic Indians were massacred by the police of the ruler for daring to salute Tricolour. Shockingly, it was in defence of this massacre which had sent a wave of indignation throughout India that Savarkar sent the following message to the Mysore Hindu Sabha session at Shimoga on April, 17, 1941:
“The chief aim of the Mysore State Hindu Sabha must be to consolidate and strengthen the Hindu power in the Hindu State and to stand by the Maharaja and the Hindu State in weal and woe extending the most loyal and patriotic support to them in defending the Prince and the State against any subversive activities carried on by any non-Hindu forces or by the Hindu dupes of the Pseudo Nationalistic organisations.”
Savarkar advised Queen of England to hand-over India to Nepal King as he was the King of all Hindus of the world
Savarkar even suggested to the British Queen of England that India before it slips out of her hand “should be handed over to an equal an independent ally of Britain like His Majesty the Nepal King” who was the sovereign of all Hindus of the world.
These are really sad times for the largest democracy in the world that a personality antithetical to all its ideals is being presented as an icon with total disregard to historical facts available even in the Hindutva archives.
*A truncated version appeared in The Statesman on November 14, 2021. It may be read here.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views or position of NRI Affairs.