Friday, February 3rd, 2023 09:35:05

Remembering Veer Savarkar The Myth And The Man

Updated: June 5, 2015 10:12 pm

For the few leftover die-hard freedom fighters, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is a hero and cult figure. For the others, he was one black sheep of the freedom struggle, who was much maligned for his class of revolution. However, no one can deny that he was a rebel of a different class. He was a maverick who wrote his own rules, but his deeds and acts stand apart in India’s history for independence. Who was the real Veer Savarkar? What was his role in India’s freedom movement? Why is he so controversial?

From 1906 to 1910, in just four years, Savarkar brought tremendous changes. He made Indians proud of their past, culture, religion and civilisation. He revived the fighting spirit. He created an international awareness of India’s freedom struggle. He organised a bonfire of foreign clothes in Poona in 1905, Gandhiji followed suit sixteen years later. He had declared in 1900 that we wanted complete independence; Jawaharlal Nehru said it twenty-seven years later. He had warned in 1907 that passive resistance alone would not be sufficient; ultimately the use of force would be required to achieve our independence. Subhash Chandra Bose came to the same conclusion 30 years later.

He was the first proponent of the Hindutva theory, in fact, he was the first person who used the term way back in 1923, and had made it plain that the term was not to be confused with Hinduism. The “Abhinav Bharat”, which in recent times has been linked to the Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts, was set up by him way back in 1901. In 1906, while in Britain, where he had gone to study Law, he organised students and advocated an armed struggle to throw the British out of India.

He also wrote his epic book on the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, in which he called it India’s First War of Independence, a terminology the Indian government accepted after Independence. The British would have never allowed the book to be printed; it was secretly printed in Holland and smuggled into India. The book was a huge success, giving Indians a strong sense of pride, providing a fresh perspective on a war that was till then merely seen as the outcome of disgruntled Indian soldiers in the service of the British. The second edition of the book was published in the United States, and Bhagat Singh printed the third edition. Its translations were a big success: the Punjabi and Urdu translations travelled far and wide while the Tamil translation almost becoming mandatory reading for soldiers of Netaji’s Indian National Army–a majority of whom were Tamilians from Southeast Asia. Savarkar propounded the slogan: ‘Hinduize politics and militarise Hindudom’. Alas! The book is out of print today.

He had developed and expounded the notion of one nation, one culture, bound by blood and race. He was much ahead of his times; he had the visionary instinct of foreseeing things. During the World War II, he asked Hindus to help the British in their war effort against Germany and Japan. This was a tactical move to ensure that more Hindus got military training, which later on could be used against the British. In fact, he was an advocate of compulsory military training for each citizen. When the national flag was adopted, he vehemently criticised it. For him, the authoritative Flag of Hindusthan could only be Bhagva Dhwaj [saffron flag] with the Kundalini and Kripan inscribed on it, to deliver expressly the message of the Hindu Race.

On freedom, Savarkar had said, “Mere geographical independence of the bit of earth called India should not be confused with real ‘Swarajya’. To the Hindus, the independence of Hindusthan could only be worth having if it ensured ‘their Hindutva–their religious, racial and cultural identity’, Swarajya to the Hindus must mean only that ‘Rajya’ in which their ‘Swatva’, their ‘Hindutva’ could assert itself without being overloaded by non-Hindu people, whether they be Indian territorials or extraterritorials.”

Is there any revolutionary in the history of any country whose record is as scarred as Savarkar’s? India’s apparent neglect of its hero is gross and inexplicable. Veer Savarkar died as a political failure. He and his Hindu Mahasabha had ceased to be players in Indian politics after Independence. A fair and definitive biography of Savarkar is yet to appear. One of the reasons is that most of his writings were in Marathi, and have not been translated. While the works of Nehru, Gandhi, Vivekananda and others have been published with government patronage, Savarkar was relegated into the back chapters of Indian history. It is time that the present government sets up a proper centre for him, and his books are translated in all Indian languages. Earlier this year, on his death anniversary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted saying that “Savarkar had ignited the spark of nationalism in several lives.” The spark should be kept alive.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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