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Prescription For Catastrophe

Is India Going Savarkar Way?

Bibekananda Ray

The NDA-II, alias Modi-2 government's agenda of Hindutwa is BJP's version of 'nationalism', often cited by Mr Modi as his chief remaining task. The term was coined by Chandranath Basu (1844-1910), a Bengali scholar who in Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's Bongo Darshan used to plead for economic nationalism of Bengal. In his 1892 magnum-opus, Hindutva-Hindur Prakrita Itihaas, his coinage mentioned a variety of traditional and often contradictory beliefs and practices of Hindus whom he credited with having 'spiritual consciousness'. He pleaded that Hindus were fundamentally superior to people of other faiths; their social customs and practices survived centuries. He supported the Hindu caste system, restrictions imposed by sage Manu on women's education, curtailing of their civil rights and male hegemony. He was against religious conversions and asserted that India should not be a homeland for Islam and Christianity. His beliefs were anti-Islamic and atavistic.

The term was later picked up by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966), a Marathi freedom fighter, politician, lawyer and writer, who joined the Hindu Mahasabha to protect, as he put it, "the rights of Hindus in British India when Muslim League was formed and the government created separate Muslim electoral lists under the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909". He pleaded for validating religious myths and blind faith of Hindus as science, which is now being attempted by middle-rung BJP and RSS leaders who claim, even in science congresses, panacea in cattle dung and urine, liquid gold in cow milk, Seeta as a 'test tube baby', Vimona as aircraft, Vaana as missiles and Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi on 30* January 1948 to be a 'patriot' and so on. The Modi-2 government has decided to confer on him the highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna.

Savarkar hailed from a Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin family in Bhagur village, near Nashik. When he was 12, he led fellow students to vandalise a village mosque after Hindu-Muslim riots. He indulged in revolutionary tasks from school days and continued with them while studying in Fergusson College, Pune; with his brother, Ganesh he founded a secret Abhinov Bharat Society. While studying law in England, he involved himself with revolutionary activities of India House and the Free India Society and authored a book, The Indian War of Independence about the Sepoy uprising of 1857, which was banned by Britain. In 1910, he was arrested and extradited to India for his connections with India House; on voyage back to Bombay, on 8th July 1910 he tried to flee from his ship cell at the port of Marseille but was arrested; he sought asylum in France but the port officials returned him to Britain. He was again sent back to India and after landing in Bombay taken to Yervada jail in Pune, where he was tried on two charges—abetment to murder of Nashik Collector, Jackson and waging a conspiracy against the King emperor and sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment, totaling 50 years in Cellular Jail, Port Blair. He was let off following six mercy petitions to Viceroy in 10 years, swearing to renounce revolutionary activities. He was eventually moved to Ratnagiri jail in Maharashtra, where he stayed until 1937.

While in jail, he developed his ideas on Hindutwa, which he preached until death. He wrote a treatise, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?, which was smuggled out by his supporters and published under his pseudonym, Maharatta. To him Hindus were patriotic inhabitants of Bharatovarsho, for whom he envisaged a "Hindu Rashtra" and Akhand Bharat. He wrote, Hindus were neither Aryan nor Dravidian but "people who live as children of a common motherland, adoring a common holy land". He called for Hindus' social and communal unity with Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains but not with Muslims and Christians, because they had 'divided loyalty', their holy sites being in the Middle East. After release on 6th January 1924, he helped found Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha, entrusted with preservation of Hindu heritage. With forceful rhetoric, he advocated Hindi as a national language. He also arranged re-conversion to Hinduism of those who had embraced other faiths.

In his mercy petitions he eulogised the British India government and urged the youth to support and aid British efforts to quell Swadeshi anarchists, fighting for freedom. An ardent admirer of the Manusmriti, he conceived the 'two-nation' theory, two years before M A Zinnah spelt it, leading to creation of Pakistan. In 1929, he met Dr Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and his would-be assassin, Nathuram Godse, then 19 years old. In 1937, he was unconditionally released by the newly elected government of Bombay presidency. He hated Muslims and urged Hindus to avenge the atrocities, committed by Muslim invaders of India. He debunked Shivaji for sparing Muslims and for being chivalrous to the visiting daughter-in-law of the Nawab of Kalyan who was captured by his army. He argued against recruiting Muslims in the Indian police, military and public services, as they were 'potential traitors', and banning Muslims from owning or working in munitions factories. He criticised Gandhi for being concerned about Indian Muslims. As President of the Hindu Mahasabha from 1937 to 1942, he outlined a foreign policy for independent India. In 1939 session of the Hindu Mahasabha, he said that "the Indian Muslims are on the whole more inclined to identify themselves with Muslims outside India than Hindus next door, like Jews in Germany." In his version of Hindu Rashtra, Muslims were to be kept outside social and administrative fabric, because they were aggressive and tyrannical. He had great admiration for the Nazi doctrine and its propagator, Adolf Hitler who he thought, "was best for Germany". He criticised the Jews for not getting absorbed in the German national fabric. During World War-11, as president of the Hindu Mahasabha, he coined a slogan, "Hinduize all Politics and Militarize" and supported the British war effort in India to impart military training to Hindus. When Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement on 8th August 1942, he urged all members of Hindu Mahasabha to boycott it and asked Hindus to continue in British war effort; he also urged thorn to gat enlisted in the armed forces. When in 1944, Hindu Mahasabha protested against Gandhi's move to hold talks with Jinnah, he denounced it as "appeasement". He assailed the British proposals for transfer of power, attacking both the Congress and the British for making concessions to Muslim separatists. The Congress pulled a massive victory in the 1937 provincial elections against the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha but when in 1939, Congress ministers resigned in protest against Viceroy Lord Linlithgo's suo moto declaration that India was a belligerent in the Second World War, the Hindu Mahasabha led by Savarkar joined hands with the Muslim League and other parties to form governments in Sindh, NWFP, and Bengal. In 1920, the Congress party, Mahatma Gandhi, Vithalbhai Patel and Bal Gangadhar Tilak demanded his unconditional release. Along with Godse brothers and suspected accomplices, police arrested him on charge of masterminding the assassination but was let off for lack of evidence. The Kapur Commission, set up in 1966 to probe Gandhiji's assassination, examined the testimony of two of Savarkar's close aides—Appa Ramachandra Kasar, his bodyguard and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, his secretary. Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur in his verdict remarked: "All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.", which means, given his anti-Gandhi views Savarkar's complicity is not ruled out. Is such a pro-British, anti-Gandhi, anti-Muslim Hindu revivalist fit to be in the galaxy of 'Jewels of India'?

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Frontier
Vol. 52, No. 34, Feb 23 - 29, 2020