Mahatma Gandhi is known as the Father of the Nation as he “fathered” many of the ideas that are the guiding principles for present-day Bharat. He made our freedom struggle a true “national” struggle, which embraced multiple regions, religions and classes. He fathered the idea of equality. He gave us non-violence as a method to achieve independence by changing the heart of the oppressor. His contribution gave him an honorific title.
Ideally, children should follow the wishes and dreams of the father. If Gandhiji is rightly called the father of the nation, it is time to recognise the “son” of the nation.
Any freedom struggle has two aims. One is to achieve independence from colonialism; the other is seeding and nurturing the ideas and values on the basis of which nation-building is to be done. The Indian freedom struggle consisted of different ideologies encompassing the right, left and centre. It was a broad socio-economic, cultural movement where people of different viewpoints and ideologies took an active part politically to free India and shape the idea of India. There were reformists, revolutionaries, constitutionalists, loyalists, progressives and even regressives.
Besides the Gandhian stream of nation-making, there is another parallel but equally forceful stream that was recognised and praised by Gandhi. This was the stream of revolutionaries. They had the same goal as Gandhi’s but different means to attain that goal. If you look at the Indian freedom struggle in a broader way, two individuals dominated the paradigm from 1911 to 1947 — V D Savarkar and Gandhi. One is known as Mahatma (the saint), while the other is known as Veer (the braveheart). A narrative has been concocted by a few historians that these personalities are symbols of two divergent strands of the Indian political ethos. They suggest that they represent irreconcilable ideologies. Nothing is farther from the truth.
Both were born in traditional Hindu families. Both were conscious of their Hindu identity and were orthodox Hindus. Gandhi was more assertive — he described himself as a Sanatani Hindu and cow worshipper. Savarkar was more progressive in his approach — he was averse to the ritualistic aspects of the Hindu religion. Gandhi championed the cause of Ramrajya, which is an ideal state where equality and justice prevail. For Savarkar, it was the Hindu Rashtra in which anyone who is born in the motherland and loves his country is a Hindu irrespective of their religion. For him, Hinduness was not sectarian or religious but a cultural identity emanating from a shared history and bloodline. Both advocated for Hindi as a common language for the unification of Bharat.
Both the father of the nation and the “son of the nation” studied law and were barristers. Both were authors and wrote extensively on contemporary political and social issues. Both wrote books in the same year, 1909 — Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj and Savarkar’s The Indian War for Independence on the 1857 uprising.
For Savarkar, creating a strong national character by nurturing the individual with the cultural and ideological roots of Hindu culture would lead to an assertive nation that was militarised — all of this necessary to fight the Empire. For his strong ideas and valour, Savarkar was charged with sedition, extradited and sentenced to transportation for two life terms (“Kala Paani”), amounting to a 50-year sentence.
Both Gandhi and Savarkar were proactive social reformers. Both opposed untouchability. Each appreciated the other in his writings. After he was released with conditional confinement from the jail, Savarkar was engaged in a massive social reform project in Ratnagiri. He worked to uproot the caste system, advocated inter-caste dining, inter-caste and inter-regional marriages, widow remarriage, female education and temple entry for all castes. Even Gandhiji was for reforming Hinduism from within and eradicating caste-based differences.
Both men spent time in prison for their fight against the British Empire. From the inception of his civil rights movement in South Africa to the end of the Indian freedom movement in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi served approximately five years in jail. He was mostly a political prisoner. Savarkar, apart from minor arrests, served 13 years in Kala Paani in Andaman. His release was conditional.
Gandhi developed the idea of complete independence gradually. He came to the freedom struggle in 1915 and even during the Non-Cooperation Movement, his idea of independence was at the most dominion status within British Empire. During the Madras Session of the Congress in December 1927, Jawaharlal Nehru proposed the resolution for complete independence, which was opposed by Gandhi. From 1915 to 1930, Gandhi’s idea of independence was not “complete independence”. However, Savarkar was unambiguous in his conception of independence — complete independence. In The Indian War for Independence, he hailed 1857 as the first war of independence. Interestingly, Karl Marx also called this the first war of independence in his articles in the New York Tribune. Gandhi did not have any clear enunciation of the uprising of 1857.
For both Gandhi and Savarkar, the ultimate goal of the freedom struggle was independence. For Gandhi, the end had to be justified through the means. Non-violence, satyagraha, “changing the mind of the oppressor” were essential. For Savarkar, the goal of complete and immediate independence was more important than the means. These means could be non-violent, fighting openly with the British and even aligning with their enemies.
It was tragic that Partition happened on communal lines. Savarkar was dead against the idea of the bifurcation of India. He hailed the glorious past and culture of India to borrow strength from it. He was for a strong nation. He evolved an enlightened view of Hinduism. It’s time to give him his due title of the “son of the nation”.
This column first appeared in the print edition on October 18, 2021 under the title ‘Where the twain met’. The writer is a member of the Delhi State RSS Executive. Views are personal