Hindsight is not the best lens for seeing the story, especially when it gives you the indiscretion of being selective about the facts. It reminded me of the truth during the unnecessary controversy over whether Veer Savarkar had been asked to submit a pardon request to the British at Gandhiji’s request. The point is, Savarkar appealed to the British for leniency. It is also true that Gandhiji advised him to do so by setting out the facts and circumstances of his case. Establish a causal link between these two independent facts and state them as the truth is the origin of evil.
First, it’s important to see Savarkar’s role in perspective. That he is a patriot has never been in doubt. His burning passion was to see India liberated from British rule, and he paid a very high price for the courage of his convictions, including nearly 12 years in prison, most of them in the horrific Andaman cell prison – kaala pani. Even when he was studying law in England at the turn of the 20th century, he was convinced of the cause of a violent revolution against the British, and was arrested and deported to India for this reason. On the way back, when the ship docks in Marseille, he courageously tries to escape, is again arrested and imprisoned in the Andamans.
It is important to remember that not only Gandhi but Sardar Patel and Bal Gangadhar Tilak petitioned the UK government for his release. It is true that Savarkar himself did the same. The prisoners were given the opportunity to do this, and what Savarkar did was exactly what many of the revolutionaries of the day also did. Moreover, there was nothing unpatriotic about it, given that at that time Congress itself was not seeking to oust the British, but only to greater autonomy under British rule. In fact, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi issued a postage stamp in memory of Savarkar in 1970. Of course, when the BJP came to power in 2002, it went further. Andamans Airport was renamed Veer Savarkar Airport and a portrait of Savarkar was unveiled in Parliament in 2003.
Savarkar has rightly been the target of those in India who believe in our inherent plurality and the inclusiveness of our vision. In May 1923, Savarkar’s short essay, “Essentials of Hindutva” was published. It is important to objectively analyze this controversy. We can have little objection to Savarkar when he claims that the term “Hindu” has been recognized since ancient times, that a civilization was associated with this name, that this civilization, despite its internal diversity, was culturally cohesive, that – despite the caste system – it represented an ideological unit, and that it was always associated with a defined geographical territory, recognized by ancient texts – Bharatvarsha. A reading from Hind Swaraj would show that Mahatma Gandhi said much the same thing.
However, Savarkar went beyond that to assert that only one could claim to belong to India for which it was both pitrbhumi or a homeland and the land of its ancestors, and divyabhumi or holy land. In saying this, he accepted that Hindus who had converted to Islam or Christianity could be Indians because their ancestors were born in India; but they had to be excluded because India was not their holy land since their religion had extraterritorial loyalties, centered in Mecca or the Vatican.
We cannot condone this racist argument. What is worrying, however, is that the BJP-RSS continues to believe in this goal as an article of faith, no matter what gloss they seek to give it for the proper reasons. A direct consequence of Savarkar’s Hindutva doctrine was the birth in 1925 of the RSS. MS Golwalkar, the longest-serving leader of the RSS (1940-1973), took Savarkar’s arguments to a new level of fanaticism. In his book, We or Our Nationhood Defined, he writes: âThe non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and languages, must learn, respect and respect the Hindu religion, must have no other idea than from those of the glorification of the Hindu race and cultureâ¦ in a word, they must cease to be foreigners; or can remain in the country, entirely subordinate to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privilege, much less preferential treatment – not even the rights of the citizens.
This dangerously xenophobic thinking in a country where, even though Hindus are in the majority, there are people in a sufficiently large number of other religions, is a matter of deep concern, especially since the party in power today does not expressly repudiate the theories of Savarkar and the RSS, or publicly and definitively deny the goal of a Hindu Rashtra. What is astonishing is that the BJP fails to understand how spectacularly impractical and irrelevant this goal is in India today, more than seven decades after the adoption of the Constitution which guarantees a Plural and inclusive republic with full respect for people of all faiths, who have also lived here – not geographically isolated but side by side with other religions – for centuries. The creation of a Hindu Rashtra would either result in the expulsion of these very numerous minorities, which is unachievable, or their subjugation as second-class citizens, which is a recipe for disaster. Regardless of the violent mutilation of the Constitution, this would lead to enduring social instability, unmitigated religious conflicts, endemic community conflicts, and a state of public volatility that would end the peace and harmony so necessary to the nation. progress and prosperity.
Savarkar must be judged against this background. His racist theory of a Hindu Rashtra must be firmly repudiated. But it doesn’t help much to ridicule him as a coward who was an unseemly supplicant seeking mercy from the British. He was a courageous opponent of the British, who paid a heavy price for the courage of his convictions. At the same time, he had dangerously xenophobic opinions which are now hostile to our Republic. Gandhiji reportedly recognized his courage in opposing the British and strongly opposed his views on the creation of a Hindu Rashtra. This must be Savarkar’s place in history.