Those who write and speak about Vinayak Damodar Savarkar make two historic blunders that need rectification.
The first mistake is the glorification of his personal predicaments and trials. There is no need to do so. Because Savarkar and many others like him had chosen that path for themselves. Savarkar should have been aware of the consequences of his actions. The British government did not send him to the Andamans for his simple living — it was an unavoidable consequence of his revolutionary activities. So Savarkar deserves no sympathy for spending time in prison or in the Andamans. Thousands of Indians chose the same fate for themselves.
The second historical blunder is that Savarkar's followers tend to compare oranges with apples — like equating him with Bhagat Singh or Jawaharlal Nehru when they should actually see how he fared vis-à-vis those hundreds of revolutionaries under similar circumstances in Cellular Jail, either hanged by the British or confined there for life and tortured to death. On this score, like it or not, Savarkar cannot be given too many marks because many of his contemporaries and those before and after him battled similar ghosts of their own and took their punishment like men.
Most of Savarkar's jailmates were from the Bengal Presidency and Bengal state —about 80,000, of which 173 were put to death. Others were brutally tortured, some sent to the Andamans twice but none of them went down on their knees as Savarkar had done and no one else was released. So, it is just three on a scale of ten.
In the year 1913, a mercy petition was filed by revolutionaries Rishikesh Kanjilal, Narendra Ghosh, Nand Gopal, Vinayak Savarkar and Sudhir Kumar Sarkar. This was Savarkar's second mercy petition; he had filed the first six months after being lodged in the Cellular Jail and reminded the British of that. Ghosh was the only other revolutionary who begged for release, others only asked for humanitarian treatment. But even Ghosh did not surrender so completely like Savarkar. All these facts are verifiable from the records released by the British gradually in bits and pieces after Indian Independence.
It may be pointed out that all these other revolutionaries in the Cellular jail — those released or even those who died there —were not as articulate as Savarkar and could not write their own biographies. So, their stories have gone untold.
Now, Savarkar supporters try to make out that his apology was a guerrilla tactic, a well thought out strategy against the British. But nobody writes five cringing apologies as a guerrilla tactic.
The first of these was sent in 1911 (which has been destroyed, but historical references are available); the second was in 1913 in which he himself mentions his first apology letter, the third was sent in 1914 (wherein Savarkar offered to volunteer from the British side in World War I), and the fourth was sent in 1919. The last and fifth apology letter was presened to the British by him in 1920. Apart from these, there is a sixth apology letter sent by his wife Yamunabai on April 18, 1921. After being bombarded by so many letters, the British decided to rehabilitate Savarkar and save themselves the trouble of reading more cringing apologies.
If after his release, Savarkar had resumed his freedom fighting, one might accept the argument that the apology letters were guerrilla tactics. But he stayed true to his word. He did not participate in any activity against the British, assisted them till Independence, he sent them another letter offering mutual friendship with the words, ‘Such an empire as is foreshadowed in the proclamation wins my hearty adherence.’
Not on your life!
The Two-Nation Theory was floated by Savarkar first in 1937 at a convention of the Hindu Mahasabha and was later picked up by Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1940 and acted upon by the British seven years later, leading to the country's partition. Patriot, or the original tukde tukde gang?
After Savarkar was released from prison, in 1926, his 'noble character' (not an autobiography!), The Life of Veer Savarkar, first appeared on the market. Many versions of the book were published. Years later, it was revealed that the original author ‘Chitragupta’ was none other than Savarkar himself. So, he found no biographer to do the job and thus glorified himself and that is quite telling.
After Savarkar came out of jail, apart from the Two-Nation Theory, he floated new theories of 'Hindutva' and 'Hindu Rashtra' through which he painted Indian Muslims as villains.
In fact, Indian Muslims have often contributed much more than Savarkar to the overall movement for Independence. This can easily be seen even while scrolling through the names of the prisoners who died under incarceration in the Andamans.
But while helping the British on the one hand, Savarkar was trying to simultaneously set up an organisation that would fly the flag of Hindu elitism. In his book Lokmanya Tilak te Mahatma (Lokmanya Tilak to Mahatma), noted Marathi writer Sadanand More quotes the then author and social reformer Keshav Sitaram Thackeray (grandfather of the present Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray) who wrote in 1948 how Savarkar twisted historical facts and was selective with the truth.
Writing under his pen name Prabodhankar Thackeray, he says, "The Marathi revolutionary Savarkar, in the year 1908, in the book 1857 Che Swatantrya Samar (The 1857 War of Independence) glorified all the major-minor virtues of only Brahmin or Hindavi heroes and turned them into hardcore patriots."
Thackeray's sarcasm on Savarkar's writings on national history was aimed at punching holes in the glorification of Brahminical and upper caste heroes to the exclusion of all others. He objected to the falsification of history and of facts. For example, Savarkar in a book described Rango Bapuji as a Brahmin when he was Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu — the same caste as the Thackerays.
More importantly, he was a diplomat to the Maratha kings of Satara, who were descendants of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. When the British appropriated their kingdom in 1839, Rangoji was sent to the British court to plead their case, with little success. On his return, he became a revolutionary and was one of the masterminds of the 1857 War of Independence, conspiring with Tatya Tope and the Peshwas (also deposed by then) to mount an armed rebellion against the British in areas like Satara and Kolhapur, the two seats of the Chhatrapati kings.
When Savarkar's publishers pointed out the mistake, Savarkar claimed it was an accidental oversight but had the deliberate error slip back into the book again —Thackeray's objection was that any and every brave deed was sought to be attributed only to Brahminism as though everybody else either did not have the same level of courage or patriotism.
This is a common complaint in Maharashtra — certain historians have always been accused of attributing a Brahmin descent to Chhatrapati Shivaji —the innocent regurgitation of that brought grief to American historian James Laine whose book on Shivaji (Shivaji, a Hindu king in Muslim India) was banned and the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune vandalised by Marathas for feeding him that unverifiable information.
Then, certain sections have always objected to Brahminical historians dropping the surname of Krishnaji Bhasker Kulkarni from their references. For Kulkarni was Afzal Khan's adviser and conspired to kill Shivaji — dropping his surname is an attempt to mask the fact that a Brahmin was a traitor, not a patriot to the Hindvi Swaraj cause of Chhatrapati Shivaji, they allege.
According to Prabodhankar Thackeray, the Hindu elites tried to appropriate history, so they could decide who the patriots were — it was an attempt to revive Brahmin domination of society like in the Peshwa era. It is no wonder that those who today eulogise Savarkar are similarly focussed on Hindu elitism which is just another name for Brahminism.
Explaining the differences between the earlier freedom fight and the Gandhian movement, Thackeray writes, "Admirers of Vasudev Balwant (another revolutionary) and of Savarkar were all Brahmins. But Mahatma Gandhi said that the true Hindustan is not in the cities but in the villages. He further said that the movements led by urban people are ineffective if they do not include farmers and labourers. Mahatma Gandhi has played the role of making Congress a genuine democratic force. It is needless to say the Congress, under Gandhi's leadership, became a powerful force for the achievement of democratic self-government.”
That explains why Savarkarites hate Gandhiji so much even today.
Savarkar's idea of the Hindu nation, initially seeming to be shorn of the Chaturvarna, is based on Charles Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest. A closer look, however, shows the Hindu nation is meant to be a purely Brahminical nation – while Darwin applied his theory to biological evolution, Savarkar put it to sociological use: elimination of all weaker sections of society, leaving behind only the fittest, Brahminical class. This application is no different from how the fascists in Italy and Nazis in Germany eliminated those they considered "unfit" and now the RSS wants to follow in the same footsteps.
In this theory of ‘Urban Brahminism', violence was not misplaced in this narrative of the Hindu nation. When Buddhism and Jainism rose as non-violent responses to extreme violence in Hindu society, their tenets were appropriated and things like vegetarianism were incorporated into Hindu practice.
But the arrival of Abrahamic religions, with no emphasis on castes, on Indian shores, put this dream of a pure Brahminical society out of sorts. Because his British masters were Christian, Savarkar could not target Christians much like the current dispensation because most of the Western powers practise that religion. So, then as now, Muslims are the soft target for the followers of Savarkar.
But in trying to create a uniform society, Savarkar and his followers have a basic problem — Hinduism has no singular apostle or holy book; the Manusmriti, which was a later attempt at dividing society into castes is not acceptable to every Hindu.
Savarkar, unlike the RSS, was intelligent enough to recognise this, so his early attempts to create a casteless Hindu society were more utilitarian than reformist. There was no radical motivation behind his attempt to construct temples for Dalits, etc — Hindu society was and continues to be such that there might be temples for lower castes, but they will still be barred entry from temples frequented by upper castes.
Writing on Savarkar in 1948, Prabodhankar Thackeray accuses the revolutionary of writing his book on the War of Independence only to glorify Brahmins. He also points out Savarkar 's glorification of rape of Muslim women as the ultimate tool to eliminate Islam — in his book Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, Savarkar even castigated Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj for returning the daughter-in-law of a Muslim general with honour and not subjecting her to indignities.
Today, the RSS selectively quotes Savarkar — like covering up the fact that he ate beef in Britain, justifying the act with the excuse that British cows could be eaten because they were not holy. But in matters of a pure Hindu nation — first eliminate Muslims, then Dalits and then the Bahujans — they are on the same page as Savarkar.
The RSS had many issues with Savarkar in his time — today their love for him is merely opportunistic. When he was alive, the RSS hated Savarkar for ridiculing the so-called properties of cow urine, for poking fun at those wearing saffron, not putting any store by praying in temples, for his opposition to quacks and to appointing uninformed persons to high office, everything that the RSS is guilty of today. Savarkar called himself a Hindutvawadi with a scientific temperament which clearly neither the BJP nor the RSS are today.
But while the RSS had no use for Savarkar's scientific integrity, they are completely at one with his cruelty and lack of compassion. While Savarkar did not believe in Sanatan Dharma, he was a proponent of male superiority, Brahmin domination and Islamophobia. Those are the very values that the RSS upholds today.
Savarkar was a noted Marathi writer, poet and playwright of his time. But not much is known of those writings today because they showed no basic values of mercy, forgiveness, compassion or humanitarianism. On the contrary, in his writings, he often glorifies disguise, deception, domination, violence and cruelty. Then, if the BJP and the RSS feel that they are close to him today, what is the surprise? These, after all, are the values they practise in ample measure today.
After his release from the Andamans, Savarkar cooperated with the British frequently, disproving the guerrilla tactics theory. He not only gave the idea of the Two-Nation Theory to Jinnah but also conspired in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi as established by the Kapur Commission after his death.
Savarkar and his co-conspirators Narayan Apte, Nathuram Godse (who pulled the trigger) and Digamber Badge were all highly educated Hindus and fully aware of what they were doing. Just like the leaders of the BJP and the RSS today, who demolished the Babri Masjid. In that context the parties and leaders who ruled India over the past 70 years were rather naive about Savarkar and the poisonous ideology of the RSS which they allowed to flourish. It is the concerted opinion of those opposed to this ideology that history textbooks should not have glorified Savarkar who should have been placed on the same page as Jinnah rather than Bhagat Singh. And they should have drained the RSS of its poison before it spread through the body-politic of India.
Savarkar was the original Hindu alpha-male, barring those moments of weakness and cowardice in the Andamans. He was cruel, violent, merciless, inhuman — all vices and no virtues, much like the ruling dispensation today.
For not squashing these evil values in good time, the country is paying a heavy price today, having to live in the shadow of Savarkar and RSS domination. No one really knows for how long.
(Translated from Marathi by Adhir
More and edited by Sujata Anandan.
The author is a prominent Marathi writer, poet, critic, commentator, blogger and TV anchor)