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A divisive firebrand

Kumar Ketkar (‘The unbearable potency of Savarkar’, IE, August 27) has not done justice to the ongoing debate on Savarkar’s r...

Written by Shamsul Islam |
August 31, 2004

Kumar Ketkar (‘The unbearable potency of Savarkar’, IE, August 27) has not done justice to the ongoing debate on Savarkar’s role in the freedom movement by calling it ‘‘neither political nor ideological.’’ It is very much political and ideological given the fragmented political life that V. D. Savarkar lived. There were two markedly distinguishable phases in his political life which stood for diametrically opposite ideals. Unfortunately, votaries of Savarkarism are unable to see this difference.

Savarkar began as a revolutionary who believed in an inclusive and composite Indian nationalism. Though he remained rooted in Hindu mythology, he initially believed that India’s liberation depended on the united resolve of Hindus and Muslims. In his monumental work The Indian War of Independence 1857 penned in 1907 in England, he warned against any feeling of animosity against Muslims. Mangal Pandey, Rani Laxmi Bai, Nana Saheb, Maulvi Ahmed Shah, Tatia Tope, Bahadurshah Zafar and Begum Zeenat Mahal were described by him as national heroes.

Yet the savage incarceration in Cellular Jail broke him completely. Convinced of the invincibility of the British rule, he started writing mercy petitions to his British masters. He wrote the first one in 1911 (immediately after his arrival in the brutal jail) and second one in 1913. The latter petition addressed to the Home Member of the Government of India (November 14, 1913) apart from many other things said: ‘‘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…’’

During his imprisonment, he kept a safe distance from companion political prisoners. He was released when Non Co-operation Movement was at its peak bringing a high watermark of Hindu-Muslim unity. The British rulers terrified by this development were looking for leaders who could dent this unity. Savarkar who had been working on his theory of Hindutva seemed to be a good option. He was released from the Cellular Jail in 1921 and then interned in Ratnagiri/Yeravda jails (from where he was finally released on January 6, 1924.) on the condition that he would not indulge in any kind of political activity. However, he was allowed to publish his controversial ideas of Hindu nationalism titled Hindutva (1923), claiming that only Hindus had the right to be nationals of the country and Muslims and Christians could not be part of Hindusthan. He made an unconditional promise to the British masters ‘‘to serve the Government in any capacity’’, and this he fulfilled by becoming a willing tool in their hands to execute the Two- Nation theory.

Ketkar’s article makes no mention of what Savarkar did in the second phase of his political life, when he was free. For an honest appraisal of his role, we must become acquainted with his words and deeds while he was free, guiding the Hindu Mahasabha from 1937-1942. These are available under one the title Hindu Rashtra Darshan published by the Hindu Mahasabha, Maharashtra. Savarkar like Mohammed Ali Jinnah, believed in the Two Nation theory.

While delivering the presidential address to 19th Hindu Mahasabha session at Ahmedabad in 1937, Savarkar said: ‘‘As it is, there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India, several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supposing that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for the mere wish to do so… India can not 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’’.

If Savarkar, an ardent advocate of the Two-Nation theory, can be considered an Indian nationalist, then who can stop Jinnah from claiming the same status! Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Savarkar played a highly dubious and divisive role in the ‘Quit India’ Movement of 1942. While large sections of Indian masses faced immense repression and the country was turned into a jail, Hindu Mahasabha decided to co-operate with the British rulers. In fact, he was jubilantly thankful to the British rulers for banning Congress when he said, ‘‘As soon as Congress was removed from the political field as an open organization under the government ban, the Hindu Mahasabha alone was left to take up the task of conducting whatever Indian National activities lay within its scope.’’ He also declared that he was not bothered about ‘‘ breaking up the so-called united front against the British Imperialism.’’

When Netaji and his Azad Hind Fauj were planning to liberate the north east of the country, it was Savarkar who offered full military co-operation to the British. While addressing 23rd session of Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur in 1941, he said, ‘‘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 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…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.’’

There is a factual error in Ketkar’s article, regarding the relationship between Savarkar and the RSS. Ketkar writes that Savarkar ‘‘was still in jail when the RSS was formed in 1925’’. In fact, Savarkar was freed in early 1924. Here’s what Dhananjay Keer, Savarkar’s biographer wrote about the close affinity between the two. ‘‘Before starting the volunteer organization known as the RSS, Dr. Hedgewar had a long discussion with Savarkar over the faith, form and future of organization’’ and it was ‘‘in consultation with Savarkar and others, that Hedgewar decided to build up an organization to supply the Hindu society with powers and pillars.’’

The writer is Reader, Department of Political Science, Satyawati College

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