Savarkar, who hated Gandhi and was himself hated by RSS, now needs both

Savarkar would have been lynched for his views on beef & the cow had he been alive today. His criticism of Shivaji and Malhar Rao Holkar is glossed over. But he needs Gandhi & RSS to gain legitimacy

Savarkar, who hated Gandhi and was himself hated by RSS, now needs both

Sujata Anandan

It is sad and actually pathetic that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which can lay no claim to national heroes during the freedom struggle, continuously attempts to turn the villains into something they never could be. The most notorious of these, of course, is Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi's assassin. But now they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel by wanting to convert their own villain and a half-way freedom fighter to being their hero.

During his lifetime, the RSS did hot care much for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Now there is an attempt to attribute his unheroic actions to Mahatma Gandhi in the hope that Gandhi's larger than life stature and universal acceptance will help to dull the edge of criticism against Savarkar for being essentially a coward and an apologist.

Union Minister Rajnath Singh tried to make out that Gandhiji had advised Savarkar to file mercy petitions to the British to release him from the Cellular Jail in the Andamans. But as is usual with the RSS, Singh forgot to get his facts right, leading many historians to point out that when Savarkar filed his first few mercy pleas, Gandhiji was still in South Africa. But Gandhiji, in response to a plea from one of Savarkar's brothers, did make out a case for his release. Apart from everything else, this tells me Gandhiji was the go-to person for everybody during the freedom movement as well as now – an endorsement by him seems to carry a lot of weight and that is why Dr Narayan Savarkar appealed to Gandhi to help out his brother then and Rajnath Singh and the RSS are roping in Gandhiji to lend legitimacy to Savarkar now.

But why did the RSS hate Savarkar in the 1930s? The answer lies in just one word – cow. Savarkar's view on the cow differed vastly from both Gandhi Ji's and the RSS. He was no advocate of vegetarianism like Gandhiji was and publicly admitted to have consumed beef while in the UK. His justification - if a cow was to be considered holy, then that cow had to be only the Indian cow! Since he had only consumed British cows, he had violated no dharma, he argued and he consistently refused to change his views on both the cow and beef.

When RSS ideologues even today describe the cow as mata, they should be pointed to the direction of the writings of Savarkar in various Marathi newspapers of the time on his views on that subject. The cow cannot be any human being's mother, he said. “If at all she is mother to anyone, it is to the bull and that does not place her apart in any way.”

Even in those days he condemned the tendency to consume gomutra and gobar as unscientific and unhygienic and he was more for “cow care" than for cow worship. “You have insulted 33 million Indian gods by cramming them into a cow's stomach,” he told the RSS even then. But what riled the RSS more was his political views on cow slaughter.

Savarkar was of the view that Hindus had invited cow slaughter from Muslim invaders in large measure because of their treatment of her as not an animal but a holy mother. To provoke Hindus, Muslim rulers slaughtered cows the more when they did not need it. Killing a cow deliberately was wrong, he said, but added that if one had to slaughter the cow because one was hungry and had nothing else to eat, then it was understandable. Would Savarkar have been lynched by RSS ideologues if he had lived in this century and expressed such views?

But there seems to be some basis to Savarkar's assumptions. There is at least one historical record in his support when Malhar Rao Holkar, the Maratha warlord of Indore, marched on Kashi to save its temple and had to turn back because his Muslim opponents had let loose hundreds of cows in his path. He had to abandon the march for fear of killing the cows inadvertently or spoiling his karma if he provoked the enemy to kill the cows in his wake. Savarkar 's conclusion was that had Hindus not been so hung up on the cow, they would not have been lamenting about the temple in the 20th century.

Speaking of Savarkar's criticism of Holkar, one of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's chieftains, he also labelled the Maratha warrior king as a fool for his virtuosity in not raping Muslim women and returning them with honour to their husbands and fathers when captured by his soldiers.

Writing in 'Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History', essentially an account of Hindu resistance to Muslim invaders based on dubious historical records and accounts of travellers, Savarkar labels Shivaji a fool for returning the daughter-in-law of the Muslim governor of Kalyan unviolated and says what might have been a virtue in Shivaji's time could not but be a vice in the current era. Perhaps that is why RSS affiliates in Gujarat 2002 and Muzzafarnagar 2013 took his advice seriously and indulged in mass rape of innocent women and children even though they were fellow citizens and not conquering enemies.

This is one reason why Savarkar was never quite lionised like Lokmanya Tilak or Gopal Krishna Gokhale for being icons of the freedom movement and his abuse of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is something the RSS would like to keep under wraps for fear of alienating the Maharashtrian masses.

Now Savarkar most certainly was a violent revolutionary who gave up the gun in return for clemency from the British. But his love for the gun did not disappear. He was complicit with the plan to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi and it is a wonder he ever made it to the history books as a freedom fighter. I believe calling him a revolutionary is an insult to the likes of true revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh who was asked to file mercy petitions but never did, choosing the gallows over apologies.

At the end of the day, all one can say is that Savarkar had only contempt for Mahatma Gandhi's ways and style of life (vegetarianism, non-violence, etc.) but today he needs Gandhiji's spirit to legitimise his role in India's freedom movement.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai. Views are personal)

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